Up until quite recently, there were exceptions to the general requirement that police get a Search Warrant for a cell phone. Cell phones have been a window into suspects’ activities, as police used these exceptions to get their hands on information found inside mobile devices. Obtaining a Search Warrant for a cell phone is not that hard to do. You can review a Search Warrant for a Cell Phone here: Here is an actual iPhone Search Warrant . GPS or Global Positioning Satellite information found in mobile phones has also been used by police.
Up until around 2014, police could and did search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who was arrested. Defense Attorneys would frequently challenge such searches. These searches were frequently based upon “helping” arrested citizens by making sure their property was properly inventoried by the arresting officers for safekeeping by jail personnel or by the evidence unit at the arresting agency’s office. This rationale remains a frequent flier in broad invasive “inventory” searches of automobiles during traffic stops.
Cell Phone Search, Search and Seizure, Search Warrant
Florida had outlawed warrantless phone searches before the US Supreme Court. That ruling is discussed here. Now prohibited will be mobile device and cell phone searches without a warrant. Before the 2014 United States Supreme Court ruling here was another Court’s Ruling on a Cell Phone Search. Searches Incident to a lawful arrest were previously justified by cops using issues of police officer safety and prevention of destruction of evidence.
Now under Floridalaw, a Motion to Suppress Evidence can be filed pursuant to Rule 3.190(h), Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. Illegal Search and seizure now applies to cell phones and the Courts may exclude illegally obtained evidence including, photographs, video, text messages, directory and location data, voice mails, and emails.
Case Summary: The US Supreme Court’s ruling is that a properly obtained and issued search warrant is generally required before search of a cell phone. Here is some language from the Court’s ruling.
“Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person. The term “cell phone” is itself misleading shorthand; many of these devices are in fact minicomputers that also happen to have the capacity to be used as a telephone. They could just as easily be called cameras,video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers.”
“The sum of an individual’s private life can be reconstructed through a thousand photographs labeledwith dates, locations, and descriptions; the same cannot besaid of a photograph or two of loved ones tucked into a wallet.”
“To further complicate the scope of the privacy interests at stake, the data a user views on many modern cell phones may not in fact be stored on the device itself. Treating a cell phone as a container whose contents may be searched incident to an arrest is a bit strained as an initial matter.”
“[T]he search incident to arrest exception does not apply to cell phones . . . .”
Some Excerpts from Florida Cases:
“However, we express great concern in permitting the officer to search appellant’s cell phone here where there was no indication the officer had reason to believe the cell phone contained evidence.”
“We are equally concerned that giving officers unbridled discretion to rummage through at will the entire contents of one’s cell phone, even where there is no basis for believing evidence of the crime of arrest will be found on the phone, creates a serious and recurring threat to the privacy of countless individuals.”