In Florida, we have seen many cases where the police will look into a person’s cell phone before or after an arrest without a search warrant or even without probable cause to believe that there is incriminating evidence in the cell phone. Cell phone evidence has been used in court to incriminate many defendants, particularly in drug cases. However, a recent case was before the United States Supreme Court that challenged the state’s right to search a person’s cell phone without a search warrant. The government largely relied on the argument that the police can search a person’s pockets to make sure they are not armed or in a position to destroy evidence without a search warrant. The state argued that cell phone content can be easily deleted so the police should have a similar ability to search a person’s cell phone without taking the time to get a search warrant during which a defendant can remove incriminating information.
The Court disagreed and found that a person has a Constitutional right to privacy in his/her cell phone and other devices such as an Ipad or similar mobile device that stores information. The quantity and type of information people keep on their cell phones deserve privacy protection just like tangible items people keep in their vehicles and homes. As a result, except in very limited circumstances, if the police want to search someone’s cell phone or similar mobile device, they need to get a search warrant signed by a judge to do so. This is true even after an arrest where the cell phone or mobile device is in the possession of the person arrested and easily accessible by the police.