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When Can Police Look Through Your Cell Phone?

Posted on in Criminal Defense

cell phone, search warrants, wisconsin criminal defense lawyerCell phones are an integral part of modern life for most people. They have a large capacity for data storage and contain vast amounts of personal information. Mobile phones are also commonly used in the execution of crimes. For this reason, police officers often want to look through the phones of suspects. In doing so, they may not find the evidence they were initially seeking; however, any other incriminating information found on a cell phone could be the basis of additional charges.

Riley v. California Requires a Warrant for Cell Phone Searches

The U.S. Supreme Court determined that officers can search a cell phone only if they have a warrant. Specifically, in Riley v. California, the court reasoned that cell phones, with their vast storage abilities, need protection from police searches.

Searches authorized by warrants are preferred in the United States; however, there are several constitutional exceptions to the warrant requirement. For example, if the police arrested you for a crime, they can search your person. If you are carrying a concealed weapon without a license, there could be additional charges. 

In this circumstance where someone has been arrested, police do not need a warrant to conduct a search. However, under Riley, if police arrested you, they could not search your cell phone because a warrant is required. Because many valid searches take place without a warrant under an exception to the warrant requirement, requiring a warrant for a cell phone search places a significant limitation on police.

How Does an Officer Get a Warrant?

An officer must apply for a warrant with a judge. The officer will state in writing why he or she believes that the cell phone contains evidence of a crime. If the judge, who is required to be neutral, agrees, then a warrant will be issued for the search of a cell phone.

How Can an Attorney Challenge an Improper Cell Phone Search?

A criminal defense attorney can examine many aspects of the cell phone search to determine if it was constitutional. If the search was improperly carried out, it might be found that any evidence that was gathered cannot be used against you in court. This is a powerful way for the charges against you to be reduced or even dropped.

An attorney will also look at the affidavit that was filed by the officer in order to get the warrant for the cell phone. First, an attorney will review the documents to see if the information contained in the affidavit was gathered constitutionally and was known personally by the officer seeking the warrant. Then, the lawyer will also make sure that the information provided in the affidavit was sufficient for the judge to determine that there was probable cause that the cell phone contained evidence of a crime. Lastly, the attorney will determine if the scope of the warrant was exceeded. 

For example, if the warrant only authorized the search of data stored on the phone and the incriminating evidence was found on cloud storage, it may be argued that the evidence at issue was outside the scope of the warrant. 

Contact a Milwaukee Criminal Defense Lawyer

If your case involves a cell phone search, a knowledgeable lawyer can review your case to determine if police acted constitutionally. Call our Milwaukee criminal defense attorneys at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLP at 414-271-1440 to schedule your initial consultation.

Source:

https://www.oyez.org/cases/2013/13-132

Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP

330 East Kilbourn Avenue
Suite 1170
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Phone: 414-271-1440
Fax: 414-271-7680
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