So many of us carry around phones that hold 16 gigs of our personal information. Every person should know their rights when it comes to police searches and cell phones.
The Federal Supreme Court is the final authority on Fourth Amendment searches. The rules and laws created by the Supreme Court trickle down to the State Courts. Therefore, a Supreme Court ruling affects searches by Traverse City police and every other police agency in Northern Michigan.
In Riley v California (2014) 573 U.S.___, 134 S.Ct 2473, 189 L Ed 2d 430, the Supreme Court took up the issue of police searches of cell phones incident to a lawful arrest. In this case, the defendant was stopped for expired tags and was driving without a valid driver’s license. A subsequent inventory search, this is a search when the car is impounded, and police go through the car to inventory the contents for storage, turned up illegal firearms. The police then searched defendant’s cell phone, which was taken out of his pocket upon his arrest, and discovered other evidence that was used to charge him with various gun crimes.
The Court held that this was an illegal search of defendant’s cell phone. The Supreme Court held that generally a warrant is required to search digital information taken from a phone pursuant to a valid arrest. The Court did allow a warrantless search of digital information contained on a cell phone under the exigent circumstances exception to the general warrant requirement. Exigent circumstances are a gray area in the law. Two examples are an emergency situation where quick action, a search, is necessary to prevent injury to person or property and where the police believe the relevant evidence may be destroyed without prompt action, a search, to preserve it.
Because so much private and intimate information is contained on our cell phones, the Supreme Court as extended privacy protection to this area of our lives. As a result, any search of a cell phone by police should be examined by a dedicated criminal defense attorney like me. It is no longer routine or acceptable for police officers to just fish around in someone’s cell phone after they arrest someone. This opinion will likely cause nearly all police officers conducting an investigation to ask for consent to search the digital information of a cell phone taken from a defendant after an arrest. When a defendant or suspect gives valid consent to search something, there is no violation of the Fourth Amendment. As with all consent searches by the police, when the police ask to search something, the safe answer is always “no you may not search my stuff.”
If evidence was taken from your cell phone that leads to a criminal charge again you, you should call my office to schedule a Fourth Amendment review of the police officer’s actions in your case. If the police searched your cell phone without a warrant, or where there are no exigent circumstances present, counsel will be able to suppress the evidence from introduction at trial as an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment.
About the author:
Matthew Benedict is an experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney serving all of Northern Michigan, including Traverse City, Leelanau County, Benzie County, Antrim County, Wexford County, and Kalkaska County. Please call today for an appointment.