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Can the Police Search My Cell Phone Without a Warrant?

In today’s day and age, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding police encounters. While most people are aware of their constitutional rights, many are unsure about just how inclusive these rights really are. For example, have you ever wondered whether or not the police can look at your cell phone once you have been arrested? After all, they’re allowed to search you, your pockets and all areas within your control after an arrest.

The short answer to this question is no, but of course, there are exceptions. Since the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures, the police must have either a judge-issued warrant or your consent in order to search your cell phone. Even so, there was (and still is) a lot of uncertainty on this issue until the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark ruling in June of 2014.

What the U.S. Supreme Court Says About Cell Phone Searches

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Riley v. California. In this ruling, they held that police officers generally need warrants in order to search an arrestee’s cell phone—stating that cell phones are not like typical containers, but should rather be treated like homes. While the police are allowed to search people and any containers on or immediately around them, cell phones do not fit in this category.

The data that can be found on a cell phone is both vast and extremely personal. Today, a person’s cell phone can contain anything from bank records to intimate messages to data that can track the owner’s location. Although some of this data may be relevant to a criminal investigation, this does not give a police officer the right to access it without going through the proper legal channels—which, in this case, would require a warrant.

When “Exigent Circumstances” Would Apply

Like most laws, there are exceptions to the Supreme Court’s ruling that law enforcement officers must first obtain a warrant in order to search your cell phone. For example, the “exigent circumstances” doctrine may allow an officer to conduct a search without first procuring a warrant under severe or emergency circumstances. This would apply if they think that it could help them avert an impending disaster, for example.

In other cases, the police may decide to search your cell phone without a warrant if they think that the data on it will be lost forever through “remote wiping.” Even so, the police would be treading on thin ice. There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding this issue, and certain exceptions, even after the Supreme Court handed down their latest ruling, which is why you should hire an attorney if you feel that your rights have been violated.

Tell Us About Your Case in a Free Consultation

If you were arrested for any reason, your first course of action should be to call a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer at Rudenberg and Glasser, P.A. We are available to clients 24/7, so you trust that we will be there when you need us most. We have also handled thousands of misdemeanor and felony criminal cases in the past, which means that we are well-equipped to provide the aggressive defense that you need.

If the police have violated your rights by searching your cell phone without a warrant or your consent, we will fight diligently to have the evidence of this search thrown out of court. If you so choose, we may also be able to represent you in a case against the infringing officers or police department. We have a vast amount of experience in handling police misconduct cases, as well as criminal cases, so don’t wait to give us a call.

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