The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from the government’s unreasonable searches and seizures. In order for authorities to conduct a search, they must first present a magistrate with probable cause and obtain a search warrant that particularly describes the items to be seized. After a lawful arrest, however, police may conduct a search the person and the immediate vicinity of the arrest. If during this search evidence of a crime is discovered, officers may seize the evidence and introduce it at trial. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a pair of cases about whether this search incident to an arrest gives police the authority to search the cellphones of the people they arrest.
In today’s digital age, the contents of one’s cellphone include information of a highly personal nature. Not only do users store hundreds of photographs and videos on their cellphones, but smartphones today give users access to the internet, email accounts, bank accounts, social networking apps, and more. If police officers were to search an individual’s cell phone, they would be able to see who that person made calls to, what he recently purchased, read all the text messages and emails that person sent, gain access to financial records, medical records, check his calendar to view his appointments, etc. The essential question the Supreme Court must answer is whether, because of the vast amount of highly personal information stored on them, searching an individual’s cell phone requires police to first obtain a warrant.
The lower courts are divided on how to treat the situation. In February of 2013, a state appeals court in California allowed police to admit evidence gathered from a man’s cellphone that suggested he was associated with a street gang. Further inspection of the phone revealed evidence linking the man to a shooting and ultimately led to his conviction.
In May 2013, the federal appeals court in Boston precluded police from entering into evidence a call log obtained from a drug dealer’s cellphone. Some courts have refused to hear appeals on the issue, stating that the questions are “very important and very complex,” and that the issues are best resolved by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter will influence future methods taken by law enforcement, but the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures will remain. The attorneys at Khonsari Law Group are experienced in handling all types of criminal matters, and if the police have illegally obtained evidence against you, we can help. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact one of our attorneys for a free consultation.