To the possible dismay of criminal defense and constitutional law attorneys across the United States, a California judge ruled Monday that police in the state of California may search an arrested individual’s phone. The ruling allows police to search any data that is kept on an arrested person’s phone. Under the ruling data is considered to include texts, emails, photos, web browsing history, address books or other data stored on the phone. The ruling only affects California law.
The new ruling was given on Monday by a Superior Court judge in Ventura County, California. In explaining the ruling, the judge issuing the opinion said that an individual’s right to privacy is lost upon arrest and the loss of privacy is extended to include personal property “immediately associated with the person of the arrestee at the time of the arrest.”
The ruling stems from a 2007 drug deal case. A Ventura County Sheriff witnessed a drug deal that involved a car driven by a suspect. The suspect and his passenger were arrested and six pills of Ecstasy were obtained. The arrested driver was taken to a police station and his phone was seized. The driver denied any involvement with the drug deal during his interview with police. A police deputy then reviewed text messages contained on the phone and found one message that said “6 4 80” which the officer interpreted to mean “Six pills of Ecstasy for $80.” The deputy then challenged the driver’s previous story and showed him the text message. The driver then admitted to the drug deal.
The ruling allows police in California to review any data stored on an arrested person’s phone including voicemails, chat conversations and more. Responding to the decision, a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union said that it is unclear whether police can copy information from an arrested person’s phone and that police cannot force an individual to unlock their phone without a judge’s order.
Source: CNN, “Ruling Lets California Police Search Your Phone Without a Warrant,” Amy Gahran, 1/5/11