U.S. Supreme Court: If You’ve Been Arrested, Police Cannot Search Your Phone Without a Warrant

Given that 90% of Americans now carry cell phones, it is likely that the overwhelming majority of the 12 million people arrested in the U.S. every year have their phones on them at the time of their arrest. If you find yourself in that situation, the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that the police cannot search the contents of your cell phone or smartphone without first obtaining a warrant. In Riley v. California, the Court unanimously held that such warrantless searches violated the “unreasonable search and seizure” provisions of the Fourth Amendment.

The Court had previously held that police had a right to conduct warrantless searches of suspects in custody for safety reasons and to prevent the destruction of evidence. However, in Riley, which was decided on June 25th, the Court held that these rationales do not extend to cell phones.

Safety does not justify a search of the phone’s contents because “once an officer has secured a phone and eliminated any potential physical threats…, data on the phone can endanger no one,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts on behalf of the Court. As to the possible destruction of evidence that may be on the phone, Roberts said that such a circumstance was remote, and the police could easily address concerns such as remote wiping by turning off a phone or removing its battery.

In the decision, the Court acknowledged the central role our phones have come to have in our lives, noting that they are “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” Roberts wrote that our phones contain “a digital record of nearly every aspect of [our] lives – from the mundane to the intimate.”

Roberts put the decision in the context of the historical origins of the Fourth Amendment, which was a reaction to British forces indiscriminately rummaging through homes, papers, and other items in search of information, Roberts concluded that “the fact that technology now allows an individual to hold such information in the palm of his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the founders fought.”

This was indeed an important decision; I have had cell phone evidence come into play in various cases. The most important thing to remember though is that this decision means nothing if you give the police consent to look at your phone. Never give consent to a search, and protect your Fourth Amendment rights.

Mark Diaz – Experienced Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer

When you have been charged with a crime, you need an experienced lawyer who focuses exclusively on defending criminal cases and who will aggressively protect your rights. Throughout my career, I have successfully handled every type of criminal defense case. More importantly, criminal defense is the only thing I do. I have witnessed firsthand how a criminal charge can negatively impact every area of a person’s life. As a lawyer, I consider it a privilege to help people during this stressful time in their lives. Call me today at (409) 515-6170 for a free consultation to discuss your case.