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Police Cannot Search Your Cell Phone Without a Warrant

 Posted on November 15, 2016 in Criminal Defense

Chicago criminal defense attorneyWhen you think of a police search, you may picture law enforcement officers going through your personal belongings looking for illegal drugs, unlicensed firearms, and other evidence that could be used against you in a criminal proceeding. This scenario is certainly one type of police search, and one that generally requires a warrant or your express permission, but there are other types of searches as well.

An Important Question

One of these is a type of search that our founding fathers could never have foreseen when drafting the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as it involves modern digital technology. Thus, two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether the search of a person’s cell phone constitutes a search as defined by the Fourth Amendment and whether a warrant in necessary to allow such a search.

Advancing Technology

Cell phones and other mobile devices have become so common to us that we give very little thought to the technological marvel that they really are. Despite being about the size of a person’s hand, today’s cell phones connect our world like never before. They also are capable of storing immense amounts of data, much of which is very personal and worthy of protection. Right now, your cell phone may contain—or could quickly access—records of hundreds of phone, email, and text conversation. It may also contain a record of your recent movements, thanks to GPS systems and fitness tracker apps. Your phone may even link directly to your bank and investment firms.

Riley v. California

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court held that law enforcement officers could conduct a full physical search of a person upon the person’s arrest on criminal charges. Since then, the rise of cell phone technology has changed the game and the stakes of such a search, at least according the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision in 2014’s Riley v. California, the high court ruled that cell phones are, in fact, “minicomputers” that are also used as “cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, television, maps, [and] newspapers.” Therefore, the court determined that a warrant is needed before a search of a cell phone may be conducted incident to a person’s arrest.

Writing the opinion of the court, Chief Justice John Roberts observed that if we were to convert all of the information on our phones to physical form, it would equate to thousands of pages, pictures, records, and documents. To look through physical data like this, law enforcement needs to have a warrant, so to look through digital data, a warrant should also be required. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of protection for which the Founders fought,” the Chief Justice wrote.

Call Us for Help

If you have questions about illegal searches and what your options may be if you have been the victim of one, contact a Chicago criminal defense lawyer right away. Call Luisi Legal Group today at 773-276-5541 to schedule a free consultation today.





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