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Posted on August 2, 2017

Can Police Search My Phone Without a Warrant?

The United States Supreme Court recently recognized the privacy interests concerning the contents of your cellular phone. With the advancement in technology, more people are placing a life emphasis on their phones, such as operating their business, maintaining contact with people, and storing private information – e.g., videos and photographs. With this in mind, in Riley v. California, the high court held that the contents of an individual phone contain private information and is subject to dispensing with the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, in order for law enforcement to search your phone, they must be armed with a search warrant.

However, an exception applies if you voluntarily give consent for officers to search your mobile device. If you give oral or written consent, law enforcement can legally search and extract all the contents of your cell phone. But, you are legally entitled to revoke consent at any time or limit the scope of the search – e.g., text messages only, or social media applications only.

A question before the lowers courts is whether someone must relinquish the password to gain entry into the cell phone if officers have a search warrant. Moreover, a search warrant allows officers to conduct a search of the phone, but ordinarily, the warrant does not mandate an individual to turn over their password. This is because a person is guaranteed the right not to incriminate themselves under the Fifth Amendment. Because mobile devices, such as an iPhone, are extremely difficult to bypass, this often cripples law enforcement investigation efforts.

In conclusion, police must obtain a search warrant in order to clone or review the contents of your phone. Failing to do so, could result in the suppression of evidence recovered from the phone. To be safe, one should never consent for officers to search their phone.

For more information or to schedule a free confidential case evaluation, contact an Orange County criminal defense lawyer.

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