Cell phones require a search warrant

These days, we live on our cell phones.  All our calls are there.  Who we talk to, text with, facetime, email and or game with are all right there in one iphone brokenconvenient spot.  Our cell phones offer an in depth snapshot (snapchat?) of our daily real and virtual lives.  Any damage or malfunction to our precious device automatically sends us rushing to the Apple store or madly googling how to correct the issue.  We protect our phones with special and costly cases and add super secret squirrel access codes to keep our data safe.  And in 2014, the Supreme Court also added another layer of protection by prohibiting warrantless searches of your password-protected cell phone.

A few years ago,  I had a client who was wrongfully detained/arrested and held overnight.  While he and a friend were being arrested, officers took each young man’s iPhone, along with keys and anything else they had in their pockets.  During my client’s interrogation he was repeatedly asked for his iPhone access code.  He repeatedly refused.  His friend, though, provided the access code to his iPhone.

Both young men were released the next morning.  However, their iPhones were missing from the inventory of what they had on their person when they were arrested.  After several minutes of “You didn’t have a phone when you were arrested”, an unusual sound filled the room – the tone of the local high school’s “get to class” buzzer.  This happened to be the friend’s personal “time-to-leave-home-to-get-to-school-or-you-will-be-late” alarm on his iPhone.  Officers followed the sound to a desk drawer in the back of the room and discovered both iPhones.  The ringing phone was reunited with a happy owner.  My client’s phone was shattered.  Destroyed.

The officers denied damaging the phone, but when confronted with both civil rights and due process violations, the police department replaced the phone and the arrest record disappeared for both young men.

When asked why he didn’t give the officers the access code, my client said he didn’t think they had any business looking at his private phone.  A few years later, the Supreme Court agreed with him stating the police must obtain a warrant before searching a cell phone seized during an arrest.  See link for relevant cases and links to the opinions.

Again, while we protect our phones with fancy cases and access codes to keep our data safe, the United States Supreme Court also offers additional level of protection no amount of Apple Care can provide, freedom from warrantless searches!

TLHR

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