Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Cell Phone Search Warrant - a Must
In what could be one of the most functionally important criminal justice decisions of the year, the Ohio Supreme Court of Ohio today issued a search and seizure opinion on how and when police departments can search for cell phone data. In State v. Smith, the Court essentially held that the police must obtain a search warrant if they want to search the contents of a cell phone they have seized from an arrested person. This is somewhat of a refinement or distinction on the "search-incident-to-arrest" concept that allows the police to search a person or that person's car (and closed containers in that car) after that person has been arrested. The Court stated that given the "unique nature" of modern cell phones, they are more akin to a laptop computer (which clear case law says requires a search warrant) than closed containers found in a car (which clear case law says does not require a search warrant). This case will not prevent police from eventually searching a cell phone if they really want to, because all they will have to do is obtain a quick search warrant (very easy to do these days) and THEN search the phone. Further, remember that police can also obtain a call history by issuing a properly prepared subpoena or search warrant to the cell phone service provider (e.g. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint). Thought: If you are going to be involved in a criminal enterprise, delete all of that incriminating data on the phone in case you are arrested.