Police can search your cell phone without a warrant?

First, understand that the search of your cell phone, at a minimum, would have to be after you were arrested for some crime. California allows it because it is a “search incident to arrest.” http://articles.cnn.com/2011-05-31/tech/warrantless.phone.searches_1_cell-phone-police-search-warrant-requirement?_s=PM:TECH Understand that a search incident to arrest has some gray areas in it, for that you can be sure. See, for example, http://law.onecle.com/constitution/amendment-04/14-search-incident-to-arrest.html Generally speaking, such an arrest is to prevent destruction of evidence and to prevent access to a weapon, the latter of which the police are more worried about.

The law is constantly evolving. One thing that I think is predictable is that the United States Supreme Court will review this at some point. Remember back in January 2012 when the Justices held that a GPS device being placed on a vehicle did require the police to obtain a warrant and not just hide it without notice to anyone (including a judge) that it was being done?  http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/judicial/story/2012-01-23/supreme-court-GPS/52754354/1 Thus, as technology advances, the courts will deal more and more with such things as searches of a cell phone without a warrant and whether it can be done for any arrest (public drunk?), just for felonies, or just when the police can articulate a reason for doing so in emergency (what the courts call “exigent”) circumstances. Until then, maybe you need to use a pattern screen lock on an Android smartphone. Seems that the FBI cannot crack that security: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/fbi-android-phone-lock/?


About MaxLaw843

Max is an attorney and a member of Grimball & Cabaniss, LLC where he has practiced litigation since 1987, concentrating in construction, personal injury, and business litigation. He also has handled quite a number of appellate cases. In the community, he is past president of the Scottish Society of Charleston, Inc. and is the Chair of Church Council of Bethel United Methodist Church in downtown Charleston.
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