Can Police Search My Cell Phone?

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Overview of the Law Governing Police Searches

The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. This protection extends to people and property. It applies in places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Before a search warrant may be issued, the 4th Amendment requires probable cause.

Therefore, if you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the police need a warrant if they are going to search you. However, there are notable exceptions:

It is also worth noting that the warrant bar is lower for automobiles. If police have probable cause that your car has contraband or evidence of a crime, they may search parts and containers of the car that may have the evidence.

Can Police Search My Cell Phone without a Warrant?

No. Police are required to have a warrant to search a person’s cell phone even after a valid arrest.

In the 2014 ruling of Riley v. California, the U.S Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the police need search warrants to search cell phones of people they arrest. This decision was made to help define the Fourth Amendment, which affirms "the right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures" in absence of a warrant.

The decision determined that a person’s cell phone contains more information than a person’s house does. A person therefore has a "reasonable expectation of privacy" for the contents in their phone and police should not be able to search an arrestees cell phone without voluntary consent or a valid search warrant.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

If you believe the police have searched your phone without a warrant, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.

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Last Modified: 08-12-2014 03:21 PM PDT

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