Cops Don't Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones

By Minara El-Rahman on January 04, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What would you do if a police officer conducted a cell phone search without a warrant? While that should not happen in states like Ohio, it is completely within the bounds of California law.

The ABA Journal reports that the California Supreme Court recently ruled 5-4 that police can conduct a cell phone search on a suspect's cell phone without a warrant. The ruling states that police had the authority to look at text messages on a cell phone in the pocket of Gregory Diaz.

Mr. Diaz was arrested in 2007 on suspicion of selling the drug Ecstasy to an informant in the backseat of his car. One of the texts that police found read: "6 4 80." The text possibly references to a sale price of $80 for 6 pills.

The court held that defendants lose their cell phone privacy rights or any privacy rights for any items that they are carrying on their person when they are taken into police custody. The majority referenced the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings in the 1970s in their decision: "this loss of privacy allows police not only to seize anything of importance they find on the arrestee's body ... but also to open and examine what they find."

The California Supreme Court ruled that this loss of personal privacy with regards to cell phones is in order to prevent a loss of possible evidence.

What does this ruling mean for Californians? It means that if you are arrested in state, even if it's for a routine traffic violation or stop, police officers can conduct a cell phone search without a warrant.

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