The United States’ Constitution guarantees the legal rights of each citizen, with the Fourth Amendment providing protection against unreasonable search and seizures. In case you are stopped in the state of California while driving, and the police officers request to search your cell phone, in a majority of cases, they must obtain a warrant or get your consent. The phones that we use today keep a vast amount of private and personal information including: personal photos, phone number, addresses, and even financial data.
In most cases, the police are explicitly forbidden from searching your mobile phone without your express consent or without a court warrant.
This is because of the 2014 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Riley vs. The State of California. In the ruling, a majority of the judges determined that mobile phones merit the same legal protections as one’s residence.
Are There Any Exceptions to The Warrant Requirement for Mobile Phones Search?
In a majority of cases, police officers will need a legal search warrant or your consent to go through your phone to look for evidence. For example, if they suspect that you have been texting while driving. However, there are a few exceptions or pressing circumstances which permit the police officer to go through your phone without a warrant or your consent. These exigent circumstances need to be genuine. Nonetheless, the police officer must have facts that led them to the conclusion that the matter at hand is an emergency. They cannot make up an urgent circumstance so that they can run a warrantless search of your cell phone. Police officers can only search your phone if they can provide a genuine, compelling and clear reason why they need to do so.
These urgent and clear reasons can include salvaging evidence before it is destroyed, pursuing a suspect who is fleeing or helping an injured individual or someone who is being threatened with an injury. In case, for instance, you are suspected to be part of a gang robbing a bank, the police will search your cell phone without your consent or warrant to ascertain your accomplices’ whereabouts.
Moreover, even without a search warrant, the police officer may seize your cell phone if you have been placed under arrest, and they can hold the phone until they get a search warrant. Officers will then need to request for a warrant from a state or a federal judge. A judge will issue a phone search warrant in case he/she is convinced that there is a probable cause to believe that a crime has taken place and searching the phone will result in evidence that will prove the occurrence of the crime. A phone search warrant needs to be described both for the cell phone and the evidence that is being looked for.
What Is The Exclusionary Rule?
In case the search also covers any devices apart from the ones detailed in the warrant or if it uncovers evidence that is not described in the search warrant. The search will be ruled as invalid, and the evidence cannot be admitted in a court of law. This ‘exclusionary rule’ is based on the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, and the rule excludes any evidence that is illegally obtained. This exclusionary rule can be defined as a court-created deterrent and remedy, and not a constitutionally independent right. In case evidence that falls within the exclusionary rule’s scope leads the police officers to other evidence, that they would not have otherwise found, then the exclusionary rule will apply to the related evidence that is found subsequent to the evidence that was excluded, subject to several exceptions. Such subsequent evidence can be referred to as “the fruits of the poisonous tree.”
What Do I Do In Case The Police Officer Wants to Search My Phone?
If you are stopped on the highway by a police officer who suspects that you have been texting or using the phone while driving, or in case, the police officer comes to your door and asks to search your mobile phone, you should refuse politely and firmly. If you give your consent for the phone to be searched, anything that the police officer finds in the phone can be used as evidence against you.
A phone search request from a police officer for your consent is usually a “fishing expedition” since if the police thought that your cell phone had evidence to prove a specific crime, they would have asked the court for a warrant. Do not resist the police officer, but make it politely clear that you do not consent to a mobile phone search. In California, in case a mobile phone search is carried out illegally, you should use the services of an experienced traffic ticket expert. In case you fail to cooperate with the police officer, you may face additional charges such as obstruction of justice or resisting arrest.
Defendants from the state of California who were arrested for a crime before June 25th 2014- the date of the court decision of the Riley vs. California case- need to understand the courts in California will continue admitting evidence from mobile phones searched that were carried out without warrants but connected with lawful arrests before that date. The legal thought of ex-post facto applies. Therefore, warrantless mobile phone searches carried in the state of California before June 25th 2014 are considered to be legal searches.
In case you are charged in the state of California with a crime after an illegal cell phone search, you have the right to dispute any evidence that comes from the illegal search. In California, if the evidence is central to the case against you, your traffic ticket expert can help get the charges reduced or even get the whole case entirely dismissed. You can also file a motion to suppress the cell phone evidence as part of the pre-trial process.