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Can police search my cellphone or smartphone after an arrest without a warrant?

On June 25, 2014, The US Supreme Court delivered an unequivocal 9-0 opinion in Riley v. California that police cannot search someone's cellphone or smartphone incident to a lawful arrest without a warrant. The decision was a strong endorsement of the Fourth Amendment and protects the privacy rights of 90 percent of Americans that carry smartphones or cellphones.

The counter-argument had been that cellphones and smartphones were like purses, wallets, etc. and that they could be searched under the legal theory of Search Incident to a Lawful Arrest (SILA). What would typically happen was that police would make a lawful arrest and then search the cellphones for evidence of crimes. The search was justified (presumably) under SILA. One issue was that the searches of the cellphones or smartphones had no nexus or connection to the arrest. The bigger issue, however, which the court resolved, was the warrantless intrusion into a suspected privacy right – the search of a cellphone or smartphone.

Search Incident to a Lawful Arrest:

Once police have made a lawful arrest, they may conduct a limited search in the immediate vicinity of the arrestee for the following reasons:

  1. Prevent the destruction of evidence
  2. Protect officer safety

Chief Justice Roberts stated that "Modern cellphones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse," He went on to state that "We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime.

Contact Kern Law, APC today if a search was conducted in which you were arrested or you are under investigation as a result of a search. I will provide a free consultation.