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Police generally need warrant to search cell phones

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that will strengthen privacy protections for those arrested while carrying a cellphone. As readers know, cellphones—particularly of the smart variety—provide users access to an abundance of information. The ability of these phones to store so much information often makes them valuable resources for law enforcement to tap in conducting criminal investigations. A growing problem with this, though, has been to set limits to searches of cell phones.

The recent decision involved two cases where police searched the cell phones of criminal suspects without first obtaining a search warrant. One case involved a charge of attempted murder and other charges, while the other involved drug charges. The issue could come up in other cases as well, such as DUI cases. Normally, police must obtain a warrant before conducting a search, unless some exception to the general rule applies. According to the court, it is indeed a search for officers to look at the contents of a cell phone. One potential exception to the rule would be situations where police are reasonably concerned about their own safety or the safety of others. 

The decision is an important one from the perspective of criminal defense, which has as one of its goals to scrutinize any illegal activity police may have engaged in during the criminal investigation. When police officers fail to respect the privacy and other rights of criminal suspects, they can end up shooting in the foot any case that prosecutors may eventually bring to trial.

Those facing criminal charges should work with an experienced attorney in building a strong defense. Doing so will ensure that that full advantage is taken of any protections available to defendants subjected to illegal police treatment.

Source: myFoxChicago.com, “Supreme Court limits cellphone searches after arrests,” June 25, 2014. 

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