The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on June 25 that police must obtain a search warrant to search the cell phones of people they arrest, a decision that defense attorneys are praising for its protection of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.
“The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, finally protects the rights of our citizens and sent a clear message to police that cell phones are off limits, that the police have been overzealous by accessing civilians’ information without a warrant,” said Rockville defense attorney Rene Sandler. “This decision has been a long time coming.”
The Montgomery County Police Department said that the requirement of a search warrant will likely affect officers on the street.
“It just represents another challenge,” said MCPD Captain Paul Starks.
Starks said the ruling should not adversely impact the ability of officers working investigative cases.
MCPD had no comment about whether or not they believe the ruling was just.
According to the court’s ruling, the amount of personal information on cell phones places them under the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
“The court held that cell phones are distinct from other physical possessions that may be searched incident to arrest without a warrant because of the amount of personal data cell phones contain,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, who delivered the opinion of the court. “Today many of the more than 90 percent of American adults who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives.”
Starks said that MCPD sees the ruling as “part of the system’s process.”
“We have search warrants required for homes and vehicles,” said Starks. “Cell phones are a part of society now, so we have to adapt to that.”
Starks said the police did not keep track of the number of warrantless cell phone searches that occurred prior to the ruling.
According to the Court’s ruling, case-specific exceptions, including the need to prevent destruction of evidence or pursue a fleeing suspect, could merit warrantless searches as justified.