Do the Police Need a Warrant to Search Your Cell Phone? Not Necessarily.
Boston Criminal Defense Attorney, Kevin J. Mahoney, Explains the Supreme Judicial Court’s Recent Ruling on Cell Phone Privacy Rights
State courts across the country are trying to balance the privacy rights of individuals to the information stored on cell phones with law enforcement’s demands for instant access to any information that will assist them with the investigations and prosecutions of citizens. This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court weighed in when they issued their decision on Commonwealth v. Phifer, ruling that officers may search an arrestee’s cell phone call log without a warrant.
In Phifer, the defendant was arrested on outstanding warrants after officers observed him engage in an apparent drug transaction with a known drug user; following the defendant’s arrest, he was transported to the police station, where his cell phone was seized and searched. The search yielded evidence related to the alleged drug transaction.
The defendant argued that the warrantless search of his cell phone violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy. The trial court disagreed, noting that law enforcement has long had the authority to search a suspect upon arrest, and this authority extends to the arrestee’s belongings. Cell phones, according to the trial court, are no different than any other item a person might be carrying at the time of arrest. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed.
The Court went to great pains to make clear that its ruling is limited to the facts of this case – the search of a cell phone seized incident to a lawful arrest, in which the search was limited to recent call history for evidence related to the crime for which the suspect was arrested. Thus, the police cannot search location data, texts, emails, tweets, photos or other information stored on a cell phone, without a warrant – for now.
Make no mistake about it: The Phifer ruling is the first step toward the evisceration of cell phone privacy rights in Massachusetts. Law enforcement will continue its determined effort to gut the Fourth Amendment and push the courts down the path toward allowing warrantless searches of all information stored on a cell phone. The Supreme Judicial Court has predicted as much, stating: “[W]e leave open for another day questions concerning whether, when a cellular telephone is validly seized incident to arrest, it may always, or at least generally, be searched without a warrant, and if so, the permissible extent of such a search.”
Contact Boston, MA criminal defense attorney, Kevin J. Mahoney
If you are facing criminal charges, you need an experienced Boston criminal defense attorney to safeguard your interests and challenge any overreaching by the government. Call me, at 617-492-0055, to schedule a free initial consultation.
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