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Cell Phone Searches? Not Without a Warrant

Droid Apps Cell PhoneIf a police officer asks for permission to search you cell phone, do you have to grant it? Not according to the Supreme Court. Even if you are placed under arrest, the police have no legal grounds to search your cell phone without first obtaining permission from the court. This law is effective in all states, including California.

In June of 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that searching a cell phone without a warrant is a violation of rights. The decision offers protection to some 12 million people who are arrested for crimes each year, ranging from minor misdemeanors to the most serious felonies.

In his written decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts expounds upon the ruling. “Cellphones are such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of the human anatomy.” The Chief Justice went on to say, “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the founders fought.”

Although the courts have allowed searches in connection with arrests, without warrants, Chief Justice Roberts stated that a case for justification in such searches cannot be made in the case of cellphones. Data on a phone, according to the high court, cannot harm anyone. While police may not search a cellphone before, during, or after arrest, they may turn it off or remove its battery.

The decision stands alone, but is based upon two distinct cases.

The first, Riley v. California, No. 13-132, involves the arrest of David L. Riley, pulled over for having an expired vehicle registration. Riley was in possession of loaded guns and gang contacts contained within his cellphone. Upon searching the phone, officers were able to link Riley to a shooting. Riley was subsequently convicted of attempted murder.

The second case involved was United States v. Wurie, No. 13-212. Brima Wurie, arrested in Boston on drug and gun crimes, had her cell phone searched by police sans warrant. Evidence was later thrown out by the federal appeals court in Boston.

According to attorneys, the decision brings the 4th Amendment into modern day. Digital information is now, according to the Supreme Court, protected. Riley’s attorney, Jeffrey L. Fisher, says, “The core of the decision is that digital information is different. It triggers privacy concerns far more profound than ordinary physical objects.”

If you believe that you have been the victim of an illegal search and seizure, you need the knowledge and experience of an attorney in your corner. An officer who has searched your cellphone without your permission or warrant has violated your rights. Having an experienced attorney on your side is the only way to proceed with your case.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.