Supreme Court Considers Warrantless Cellphone Search Cases
According to the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of American adults own one or more cellphones. More than half of these are smartphones. The author of a recent article in the New York Times calculated that the smallest-capacity iPhone currently on the market can hold the data equivalent of 16 pickup trucks full of paper in its memory, to say nothing of the information accessible online through a smartphone.
When you have been accused of any crime, from drug possession to mortgage fraud, the wealth of data contained on and accessible through your cellphone can be a goldmine for police officers looking to gather evidence against you. In a pair of cases, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether the police should be allowed to go through your cellphone without a warrant.
Cellphone different from other items that can be searched incident to arrest
You have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures conducted by the police under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This means that normally before conducting a search, police must obtain a warrant supported by probable cause from a neutral and detached magistrate. “Probable cause” in the context of obtaining a search warrant means that specific facts and circumstances exist that mean evidence of a crime or contraband will probably be found in the place to be searched. A criminal defense lawyer can get the fruits of an illegal search – one that is unreasonable – thrown out in court.
Over the years, a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement have developed. One of these exceptions is the search incident to arrest. If you are lawfully arrested, the police may search your person, as well as the area within your immediate reach. In a search incident to arrest, the police may generally look into “containers” found on your person, or near your person, such as wallets or purses. But does that mean police can browse through the gigabytes of data available on a smartphone?
The pair of cases before the Supreme Court raise that very question. In both instances, the police went through a cellphone as part of a search incident to arrest, and in both cases they found incriminating information. One of the suspects had been stopped for expired tags, but videos and photos on his phone linked him to a gang shooting; the other was originally arrested on relatively minor drug charges, but a search of his call log put the police on the scent of a substantially larger quantity of drugs at his home.
After oral arguments in late April, it was not clear how the Court will ultimately rule. But the justices did seem to agree that accessing photos, videos, GPS tracking of physical locations, text messages, social media accounts and countless other electronic resources on a smartphone that could be exploited by police to gather evidence is very different from searching a suspect’s pockets.
Do not let illegally obtained evidence threaten your freedom: Contact a lawyer
Whether police found incriminating information in your phone, your house, your car or anywhere else, if the search was illegal, an experienced criminal defense attorney can get this evidence thrown out. You have a right to be free from obtrusive government searches, and by standing up for your rights, you may be able to defeat the charges levied against you. If you have been charged with a crime, ensure that a bad search does not wind up costing you your freedom: get in touch with a criminal defense lawyer today.