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No Warrants Needed For Cell Phone Search

by Tom Moccia | January 11, 2011January 11, 2011 2:30 pm PDT

We all know a cell phone is more than a device to make and receive calls, especially a smartphone. Your phone can paint a pretty detailed picture about your life, who your friends are, where you have been, who you have talked to or texted and the websites you have visited amongst others. The long time debate has been how much of this information is protected under user privacy laws. Well, the California Supreme Court has set a precedent where police don’t need a warrant to start evaluating information contained on your cell phone.

The ruling comes on the heals of the conviction of Gregory Diaz, who was arrested for attempting to sell a police informant the drug Ecstasy in 2007. Diaz had his phone confiscated when he arrived at the police station and the authorities went through the text message folder on the phone and found one of particular interest. The text read “6 4 80”, now this means nothing to the average person, but in the drug world that same text means “6 pills for $80”.

The defendant argued that the police searched his phone without a warrant and this action violated his Fourth Amendment rights which guards against unreasonable search and seizure. On the other hand, the court said that “anything found on his person was really fair game in terms of being evidence of a crime.”

In the appeal, the Supreme Court decided that the Fourth Amendment didn’t apply to text messages found on the defendants phone at the time of arrest. The basic premise put forth by the court was that any defendant arrested with incriminating evidence on their person didn’t require a warrant, no matter if that evidence is Heroin hidden in a mint tin, Marijuana in the glove box or even a cell phone.

The argument arose as to how the courts would distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate cell phone searches, considering no such rules exist at the moment. At this time, California residents will need to be extra careful as to what is stored on their cell phones. If you get stopped for a moving violation you wouldn’t want the police to rummage through your phone and try to evaluate what that sexy message to your spouse actually means.

Do you think the police should be able to search through a persons cell phone if they are arrested or do you think a warrant should still be required?


Tom Moccia

Tom Moccia is a native of Stamford, Connecticut and moved his family west in 2000 and now calls Stockton, California home with his wife and two...

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