Cops Can Search Your Cell Phone After Arrest

Posted January 4, 2011 in Criminal Law by Arthur Buono

The California Supreme court says it’s OK for police to search the cell phones of people they arrest. Cops don’t need to get a search warrant first. This and related cases raise serious law enforcement and data privacy issues. It’s more grist for the really strong password mill, perhaps.

  • Cell phone data used to obtain guilty plea from drug suspect
  • Police may search items in possession of persons they arrest
  • Privacy advocates say cops should get a warrant before searching devices
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Phones May Hold Evidence of Crime, but What Else?

Police arrested a man they thought had taken part in a drug deal. When they later browsed his phone, they found a text message about the sale. This confirmed their suspicion and was used to obtain a guilty plea from him.

In the last few years Federal courts have issued conflicting opinions about cell phone searches after arrest. The Supreme Court could be asked to settle the law. It recently said it was OK for a police department to read private text messages a police officer had sent on a department-issued pager.

The Fourth Amendment lets police officers search persons they arrest. They may peer into wallets, handbags and other containers they find in the person’s possession. They may do so for safety reasons, to inventory the person’s property, and to find evidence related to the arrest. Privacy advocates warn cell phones and smart phones may contain far more information, much of it unrelated to the arrest, than any other items.

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