Cellular Phones are Microcomputers, Police Need a Warrant.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a unanimous decision that the police must obtain a search warrant from a judge before searching a defendant’s cellular/mobile phone.
In Riley v. California, the court addressed the case of a man who was stopped by the police. After searching the man’s car, the police found handguns that resulted in his arrest. After arresting the man, the police searched his cellphone and discovered evidence that related to gang activity.
The Court found that the Fourth Amendment required a search warrant to search the defendant’s cellular phone. Opponents argued that when a person is arrested, the police are allowed to search the defendant. This is known as the “search incident to arrest” exception to the warrant requirement. The court held that the purpose of the “search incident to arrest” exception was to allow officers to protect themselves from the arrestee having weapons or preventing the arrestee from escaping.
The Court recognized that cellular phones today are much more than simply telephones. They carry private information including hospital records, bank records and other private pieces of information.
The Court did recognize that there may be certain circumstances where the police may not need a warrant to search a person’s cellular phone such as in cases of exigent circumstances, such as if the person is attempting to delete or destroy evidence.
Purav Bhatt is a criminal defense attorney in Illinois handling felony and misdemeanor cases in both state and federal court. See Riley v. California here.