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Can the police search your cellphone without a warrant?

The U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases involving warrantless searches of cellphones.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently took up this issue, in two separate cases heard by the high court. The cases involved individuals who were lawfully arrested, whose cellphones were then searched by law enforcement officers who had failed to obtain warrants.

In one case – Riley v. California – Riley was stopped by a law enforcement officer for a traffic violation, but he was ultimately arrested on firearms charges. The police officer seized his cellphone upon his arrest, and later searched the phone. The officer did not get a warrant before searching the phone. The phone led the officer to believe that Riley had been a participant in a shooting. The officer also concluded that Riley was likely associated with a gang. As a result, Riley faced charges associated with the shooting and an enhanced sentence due to the alleged gang association.

In the second case – U.S. v. Wurie – police officers arrested Wurie for being involved in the sale of drugs. Upon his lawful arrest, the officers seized his cellphone. Once again, officers failed to obtain a warrant, but searched the phone nevertheless. The information stored in the cellphone revealed Wurie’s home address. Law enforcement officers then obtained a warrant to search his home, during which they found drugs and firearms. Wurie was then convicted of drug and weapons charges.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that people should be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In most cases, law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant before conducting a search.

As with any rule, however, there are exceptions. For instance, officers may generally conduct a warrantless search incident to a lawful arrest. This particular exception is meant to protect officers in the field and prevent the destruction of evidence.

In the unanimous Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that police officers must generally obtain a warrant first before searching a cellphone seized incident to a lawful arrest.

He determined that the exception was not necessary under these circumstances. For one thing, the contents of a cellphone do not create an immediate threat of harm to law enforcement officers. He also concluded that it is unlikely that the data contained in an arrestee’s cellphone will be destroyed while an officer obtains a warrant.

If you have been charged with a crime in Connecticut, you will want to take prompt action to make certain your interests are protected. Seeking the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney is a wise choice.

Keywords: U.S. Supreme Court, cellphone, warrant, search

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