Do the police need a warrant to search my cell phone?

In a 2013 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that police need to obtain a warrant to search a cell phone. Any evidence the investigators obtain from a suspect’s cell phone without a warrant, such as videos and text messages, may be inadmissible. The courts may throw the evidence out, devastating the prosecutor’s case.

If you have been charged with a crime and you believe officers obtained the evidence illegally, contact a Goldman Wetzel defense attorney to discuss your case and see how we can help you fight your charges.

Do the police have a right to search my cell phone without a warrant?

The rules regarding the search of cell phones have been somewhat hazy in years past. Prior to this Supreme Court ruling, officers typically treated cell phones like any other piece of evidence they obtained from a suspect, such as a wallet or paraphernalia: they would confiscate it and look through it.

But the courts have ruled that while officers do have the right to take your phone if you are suspected of a crime or under arrest, they do not have the right to look through it. It would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. They must obtain a warrant first.

Why do cops need a warrant to search a cell phone?

The reason officers cannot search people’s phones, the Supreme Court justices explained, is that smartphones obtain personal, protected information. Justice Lewis noted,

The capabilities of these small electronic devices have expanded to the extent that most types are now interactive, computer-like devices. Vast amounts of private, personal information can be stored and accessed in or through these small electronic devices, including not just phone numbers and call history, but also photos, videos, bank records, medical information, daily planners, and even correspondence between individuals through applications such as Facebook and Twitter.

Just like police must have a warrant to confiscate and examine the contents of a personal computer, they must also have one for cell phones. There are certain exceptions though, such as in the case of child abduction where the police suspect someone is in imminent harm, or when there is an imminent threat of evidence destruction. But those types of cases are rare.

If an officer looks through your phone without your consent, s/he is violating your Constitutional right and any information s/he finds is inadmissible in court.

What if the police obtained evidence from my phone without a warrant?

If you believe officers obtained the primary evidence against you through an unlawful search of your cell phone, we will move to have the evidence suppressed. Unlawful search and seizure is a valid defense. The prosecutor may have to drop the case or the courts may dismiss it.

Call Goldman Wetzel in St. Petersburg to talk to a criminal defense lawyer about your case and possible defenses. Our attorneys represent defendants charged with various types of crimes including drug crimes, white collar crimes, and sex crimes.

Contact us today at 727-828-3900.

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