July 28, 2014 By Matthew Wallin

Pros and Cons of Police Needing a Warrant to Search Your Cellphone

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The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a person’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that Fourth Amendment protection includes a person’s cellphone.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court decided on June 28 that law enforcement must first obtain a warrant before they can search a person’s cellphone after the person is arrested.

While the decision protects a person’s privacy, it will have a major impact on the way law enforcement officials are able to conduct investigations. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of police being required to obtain a warrant in order to search your cellphone.

Why Police Must Obtain a Warrant to Search Your Cellphone

The Supreme Court ruling shows an understanding of modern technology. Cellphones store a lot of personal data, and people logically have a reasonable expectation to keep that information private.

This will give citizens some peace of mind by ensuring that personal information saved on their cellphones will not be used against them by law enforcement.

If you are pulled over for a minor violation such as running a red light, law enforcement officials will not have the ability to go through your cellphone. Instead, they will need to establish probable cause and obtain a warrant. Probable cause can be established when police officers see suspicious activity in plain view.

Why Police Shouldn’t Need a Warrant to Search Your Cellphone

For police, being required to obtain a warrant to search a person’s cellphone will slow down the investigation process and could lead to fewer arrests. “[It] will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the decision.1

cellphone searches illegal
Making cellphone searches illegal will protect your privacy.

In 2009, a college student was pulled over for having expired vehicle registration and driving while his license was suspended. Authorities impounded his vehicle. After further investigation, they found loaded weapons under the vehicle’s hood.2

Following the discovery of the weapons, the student was arrested. Upon his arrest, police at the San Diego Police Department took his smartphone and searched through his text messages, photos, contacts and other personal information. After reviewing this data, they alleged that he had connections with criminal organizations. The information they found also linked the student to a recent drive-by shooting.3

In this case, the student was pulled over for a seemingly minor violation, but what would now be considered an unreasonable search of his cellphone revealed the student was committing severe crimes. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Law enforcement’s ability to access his handheld device allowed them to make an important arrest. It also aided their investigation of a separate crime by giving them vital evidence, which they will now not be able to obtain without getting a warrant.

Should Cops Need a Warrant to Search Your Cellphone?

The Supreme Court decision may have a negative impact on criminal investigations, but people should have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to their cellphones. At Wallin & Klarich, we agree with the court’s ruling.

What do you think about this issue? Does requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant to search cellphones make the job of catching criminals too difficult? Should people be able to keep their personal devices private? We welcome your comments on this issue.

1. [http://www.wfmynews2.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/25/police-need-warrant-search-cellphones-supreme-court/11351171/]
2. [http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/25/justice/supreme-court-cell-phones/]
3. [Id.]

AUTHOR: Matthew Wallin

Matthew B. Wallin is an experienced and knowledgeable attorney at Wallin & Klarich. He approaches each case as an opportunity to help an individual at a time when they need it most and understands that he is the one they have turned to for help.   Mr. Wallin has represented hundreds of our clients in cases involving DUI and DMV hearings, domestic violence, assault and battery, drug crimes, misdemeanors and serious felonies. With extensive experience handling DUI cases, Mr. Wallin is one of the premiere DUI defense attorney in Southern California.

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