Because of their capabilities, cell phones contain a lot of personal information. For instance, they can have photos of family events or intimate moments. They may carry text exchanges concerning private details of your life. Additionally, emails, passwords, and bank account information can all be stored on your cell phone.
With so much data and information on your cell, having someone else go through it can feel violating. And lawfully, it is, for the most part, a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights for a law enforcement official to look through your device without first having obtained a valid warrant.
That being said, circumstances exist in which police officers can conduct a warrantless search of your cell phone.
One exception to the warrant requirement is when you give consent. If you're ever suspected of a crime, you might encounter a police officer who asks with such authority to look through your phone that you feel you have no other option but to comply. However, that's a fallacy. If a law enforcement official asks you if they can conduct a search of your personal and private belongings, you have the right to decline. Whether you feel you must respect authority and acquiesce to their commands or you know there's nothing incriminating on your phone, don't freely give permission for a search.
Another exception is when law enforcement officials have reasonable cause to believe that it's imperative to go through the contents of your phone. For instance, they may need to act quickly if failure to do so could result in the destruction of evidence or harm to another person. Such emergencies are referred to as exigent circumstances, and warrantless searches made during them are lawful.
Arrest Does Not Allow for Warrantless Searches of Cell Phones
Many people may mistakenly believe that a cell phone search without a warrant is allowed if they've been arrested for a crime. While a search incident to arrest does allow for a warrantless search, it does not apply to cell phones. Law enforcement officials may pat you down and find your cell on you, but they cannot examine its contents. They can, however, seize the phone and hold it until they have a valid warrant to search it.
What Are My Legal Options If My Phone Was Searched Unlawfully?
If you are eventually charged with a crime and your matter is taken to court, any evidence obtained during an unlawful search of your phone may be inadmissible. This is called the exclusionary rule. If the information obtained during an illegal cell phone search is tossed out, it could weaken the state's allegations and may result in a dismissal or reduction of charges.
If you were accused of a crime in San Antonio and your cell phone was illegally searched at any time during the investigation or arrest process, contact LaHood Norton Law Group at (210) 801-9400 to discuss your situation with one of our criminal defense lawyers.