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Can Police Search Your Cell Phone After an Arrest?

Law enforcement officers have the right to search your person upon placing you under arrest. This includes searching the area in your immediate vicinity, along with your pockets, clothing and bags. But if officers pull out your phone, are they allowed to start searching through the data contained on it? Or do they require a warrant first?

This is an issue that has really only surfaced within the last decade or so, as the use of smartphone have become a more integral part of our lives. The U.S. Supreme Court did take up the issue in June 2014, ruling that, in most cases, police officers need warrants to search cell phones.

Reasoning behind the court’s decision

The Supreme Court’s decision had to do with the idea that officers may search people and any containers in their immediate vicinity. There was a question as to whether a smartphone qualified as a container in the sense traditionally discussed under these laws.

The court ruled that cell phones are not like typical containers, largely because digital evidence differs from physical evidence. The evidence found on cell phones is much broader and significantly more personal than evidence that could be found in the trunk of a car, for example.

Additionally, the court reasoned that data found on a smartphone might not necessarily be stored directly on that device, thanks to the development of cloud computing and storage. Photos, documents or other evidence may be stored on remote servers rather than on the device itself, which involves an entirely different “container” to consider.

To protect your constitutional rights when facing the criminal justice system, contact experienced Reading criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman.


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