US Supreme Court: Police Cannot Search a Smartphone Without a Warrant

US Supreme Court: Police Cannot Search a Smartphone Without a Warrant .

When you are arrested, what happens to your property?  In the past, police could seize your cell phone to determine whether you might be involved in more criminal activity than it appears at the time of the arrest. For example, if the police arrest a suspect for possession of a controlled substance, the arrested person may have incriminating text messages on his/her phone regarding sale of the substance.  In the past, police could use this information in the past to charge the arrested person for possession or transportation of the controlled substance for SALE, based on those text messages – which carries a much harsher penalty.

BUT, over the last few years, courts all over the United States have increasingly recognized and accepted the idea that modern cell phones are really computers, containing very personal information.   When your personal information is involved, your privacy rights come into play.

Relief finally came today (June 25, 2014).  In Riley v. California, the United States Supreme Court unanimously decided that police MUST get a warrant to seize your phone as evidence and search its contents.  A warrantless search and seizure of the digital contents of your cellular telephone violates your 4th Amendment rights.

Police in the Riley case arrested the defendant after finding illegally transported firearms during a traffic stop. The officer seized Riley’s cell phone and searched through his messages, contacts, videos, and photos. The search of the phone yielded evidence of Riley’s alleged involvement in a shooting.

The defense attorney later tried to suppress the cell phone evidence, arguing an illegal search and seizure. The California courts, however, found that the search of defendant’s automobile that yielded the cell phone was perfectly legal, since the cell phone was in an area which an arrested suspect could reach, based on Chimel v. California.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, unanimously found this to be an illegal search.

If you or someone you know is accused of a crime, arrested, or contacted by police, contact San Jose criminal defense attorney Maureen Baldwin at (408) 279-4450 to learn your options today!