California Supreme Court Ruling Permits Police to Search Contents of Cell Phones without a Warrant

Posted By Robert Bernstein || 13-Jan-2011

If you are arrested in California, police can now search the contents of your cell phone without obtaining a search warrant.  In a 5-2 decision, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that the loss of privacy upon arrest extends beyond the arrestee's body to include any personal property immediately associated with the arrestee at the time of arrest.   

The Court was ruling on a case from Ventura County in which the defendant had been arrested on drug charges.  Upon his arrest, police confiscated six tablets of ecstasy and his cell phone.  A detective who did not have a search warrant discovered text messages related to selling the ecstasy on the man's cell phone.  When confronted with the text messages, the man confessed to being involved in the drug deal and plead guilty to transporting a controlled substance.  He was sentenced to probation, however, he appealed against the conviction on the basis that the detective who searched his phone did not have a search warrant.  Typically any evidence found via warrantless searches gets thrown out of court.  

The California Supreme Court found that law enforcement officers are able to search cell phones pursuant to a lawful arrest.  Such a search does not violate the Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure, and upheld the man's conviction.

Categories: California Law

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