Can The Police Search My Cell Phone Without A Warrant?

Last June, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that law enforcement may not search the cell phones of criminal suspects upon arrest without a warrant. This landmark decision, the first by the Court to address computer searches, brings the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” into the modern digital age.

Criminal suspects in California and Massachusetts were separately convicted, in part, after phone numbers, texts, and photos obtained from personal electronic devices linked them to drug and gang activity. The justices’ decision, while not addressing the NSA’s sweeping collection of phone metadata, is an extensive endorsement of personal privacy rights.

“The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.” What must the police do when they want to search a cellphone in connection with an arrest? “Get a warrant,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

It is reasonable to conclude that the ruling also protects warrantless searches of tablets and laptops. Police searches, however, can include other closed containers, such as:

  • Wallets
  • Purses
  • Address books

It is important to remember that if you are questioned or arrested for an alleged crime, law enforcement officers cannot search your phone without a warrant. The criminal defense attorneys at Bauer, Crider Kenny and Parry are dedicated to protecting all of your rights – including your right to privacy.