If you are arrested on suspicion of committing a crime, you are not required to submit to a search of your cell phone. In fact, recent state and federal court rulings have held that police are not allowed to search your cell phone before, during or after an arrest without first obtaining a search warrant.
Your Fourth Amendment Protections
The U.S. Constitution provides protection from unreasonable searches and seizures in the Fourth Amendment. This Amendment provides us with the right to be “secure in [our] persons, houses, papers and effects” and also requires the government to show probable cause “supported by oath or affirmation” prior to issuing a search warrant.
Under these protections, no government agent may search you or your property or seize your property without having probable cause to do so. As our society has become more technologically advanced and more complex, the Fourth Amendment has been debated more and more in our courts.
The Robinson Rule
Many government agencies had been relying on what has become known as The Robinson Rule when searching suspects upon arrest. The Robinson Rule emerged from a 1973 case in which the Supreme Court held that the government could conduct a complete search of the person incident to arrest. In 1973, a search of the person might reveal articles found in pockets, wallets or purses. In 2015 though, cell phones capable of housing gigabytes of data about a person can fit into a pocket or purse.
U.S. Supreme Court Case – Riley v. California
Due in part to the many state cases that have been discussing the search of cell phones without warrants, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a California case regarding the search of a cell phone incident to arrest. In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that The Robinson Rule cannot extend to cell phones due to the fact that the intrusion on privacy is much greater than any other item that might be found on a person during arrest. Advances in technology have made it possible to carry truckloads of personal information with us in the palms of our hands.
Massachusetts Case – Commonwealth vs. Shabazz Augustine
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Commonwealth vs. Shabazz Augustine determined that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before using a criminal suspect’s phone to track his movements. Augustine was accused of killing his girlfriend and was arrested after police obtained his cell phone records from Sprint. Under existing federal law, Sprint could lawfully provide information relevant to an investigation, without requiring a search warrant. The Court held that obtaining the phone records without a warrant violated Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution.
If you have been arrested and have had your cell phone searched, you may have the ability to block any information received by that search in your hearing. It’s critical to understand your rights in this situation. Contact the experienced Boston criminal defense attorneys at Keegan Law today. Call us at (617) 799-7644 or use our online form to schedule your free consultation.