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When can law enforcement search my phone?

  Legal Services

As a citizen, you should know that the police have very limited permission to inspect your phone Except in very limited circumstances, the police need a warrant to search your phone just as they need one to search your home or place of business Sex Crime Allegation in California. A judge must again issue the warrant on the basis of "probable cause" that the data on the phone would contain the relevant evidence to confirm that a California crime has been committed and that the phone was used in the commission of the offense. Evidence in support of a particular charge must be clearly described in the search warrant. The results of the search are only relevant to the current charges being investigated, and the police cannot use them to create a case against the suspect for any other reason. As an example, if police obtain a warrant to search a suspect's phone records with the specific intent of discovering evidence of gang related activity (as outlined in the search warrant), but instead find evidence to suggest that person is selling d-r-u-g-s, law enforcement cannot use those findings to build a new case against the suspect, and bring forth new charges.


Airport and border searches are another exceptional circumstance when a search warrant is not required. This is supported by rulings from California courts, which note that people have a lower expectation of privacy in public spaces. Finally, the authorities may be permitted to examine your phone if they can show that doing so is necessary to prevent significant injury or imminent threat to themselves or another person, or to prevent the impending loss of evidence federal sex crimes. While making a valid arrest in California, police can legally confiscate your phone and hold it until a warrant to search its contents is obtained. Although the police have the right to grab your phone during a valid arrest, this does not give them permission to search it. A police officer who has lawfully arrested you may try to take the next step and have you unlock your phone for them. If law enforcement takes possession of your phone, even if it's through a legal arrest, they still can't search it without a warrant. Police can search your automobile if they have a warrant and sufficient cause, but they can't go through your phone unless they have consent. A lot of times, the police officer you're dealing with will try to scare you into giving up or letting them check your phone by using intimidation techniques like raising their voice. Proving that the officer engaged in such conduct would render any evidence obtained at the time to be inadmissible.



The Supreme Court's decision in Riley v. California ensures people's privacy by prohibiting warrantless searches of their electronic devices, even when they are in police custody. The historic, unanimous decision ruled that cell phones are "fundamentally different," from anything else someone might have on their person, as phones act as an intimate and thorough recording into people's lives; while police procedure states that police can search items on the suspect's person during the time of arrest, the ruling in Riley v. California maintains that an arrest itself still cannot allow police to pry so intimately into someone's life, without a warranted search warrant. It is possible to perform a warrant less search and seizure of a person's phone if they give their verbal consent to do so, just as in any other circumstance. Do not provide officers this license; any statement, no matter how innocuous, might be used as evidence in a court of law. Keep in mind that even after giving permission to examine and seize your phone, you may always revoke that authorization. Even if the police continues to examine your phone after you've withdrawn consent, any evidence obtained beyond that time may be thrown out of court.

 Published date:

December 4, 2022



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