Police officers across the United States are testing the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment, routinely conducting warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones. Despite public outcry against it, many State courts are upholding the practice.
For example, CNN reported that in January, the California Supreme Court decided it is legal for officers to search the cell phones of arrested persons for incriminating evidence, without court approval. Similar decisions have been recently made by courts in Florida and Georgia. However, the Ohio Supreme Court barred warrantless cell phone searches.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil rights advocacy group, is fighting the California decision, and has filed an amicus brief in the Oregon case of James Tyler Nix.
“Forty minutes after the arrest, without a warrant, an investigator fished through the suspect’s cell phone looking for evidence related to his alleged crime. Law enforcement officials claim they didn’t need a warrant because the search was ‘incident to arrest’ — an exception to the warrant requirement intended to allow officers to perform a search for weapons or to prevent evidence from being destroyed in exigent circumstances,” the article read.
“This is an empty excuse from the police — the suspect was in custody and unable to destroy evidence on his cell phone,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann told CNN.
The article claimed police are often taking the initiative to conduct warrantless cell phone searches, leaving the legality of the practice to be later upheld or overturned by appellate courts.