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Search and seizure of mobile phone requires warrant

A recent federal court case unanimously held that police officers must obtain a search warrant before seizing and searching a person’s mobile phone, even if they have already been arrested. This decision stems from a case where a man was stopped by police in California for an expired license tag. The officer found that the driver’s license had also expired and decided to search the vehicle before he called a tow service to the impound it. Upon searching the vehicle, the officer found two loaded handguns and the suspect’s mobile phone, which the officer said had pictures of gang-related activity. In another case, officers witnessed a person making what looked to be like a drug deal from his vehicle. He was arrested and officers took his mobile phone. They used his phone to figure out where his apartment was located, then obtained a warrant to search the apartment. Once inside, police found several different illegal narcotics and drug paraphernalia. They also found a weapon and live ammunition, in addition to a large amount of cash. The suspect’s attorney argued that police were able to obtain a search warrant unlawfully because they had first nailed down the location of the man’s home with his cellphone. The court found him guilty anyway. After looking into the matter, Chief Justice John Roberts noted the 4th Amendment’s condition of search warrants on a person who has been arrested. The only exception is that officers may remove any weapons or paraphernalia that the person being arrested might use to hurt themselves or someone else. The Supreme Court ultimately decided that smart phones, such as iPhones and Androids, were not conceivable at the time the law was enacted. Chief Justice Roberts said that mobile phones “…place vast quantities of personal information…in the hands of individuals,” and that smart phones are “…minicomputers that…have the capacity to be used as a telephone.” The Supreme Court said that there is no danger to officers from mobile phones and that once a phone is seized, there is no risk that any incriminating information that could later be obtained with a warrant will be deleted. Plain and simple: before a phone is searched, police must go through the proper protocol to get a warrant. If you have questions about mobile phone search and seizure, call Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Gary Gerson at (412) 281-3380 for a free consultation.

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