It’s a Saturday night and you’re at a
house party. Suddenly, the police show up and they
start arresting people for underage drinking and other violations. The next thing you know
you’re in cuffs and the police search your pockets. They take out your cell phone to
look at your recent text messages for evidence. What should you do? Tell them they need a
warrant. A recent Supreme Court case just affirmed
this. The police do not have the right to search your cell phone when you get arrested.
That includes your texts, phone calls, photos, Uber receipts, anything without a warrant
or your consent. In the case of Riley vs. California, following
a traffic violation the police arrested a guy and searched his cell phone. By looking
at pictures on his phone, they were able to link him to a shooting. On appeal, the Supreme
Court unanimously found that the search was unconstitutional. All nine justices agreed;
if you want to search a phone – get a warrant. Cell phones aren’t the same as other personal
property that police are allowed to search, and can’t be treated like that because they
contain far more personal data. Searching your phone is an invasion of privacy as serious
as searching your home. The police need a warrant to justify that action.
So, if you find yourself in a tough spot, and
the police are asking to search your phone, remain calm and polite, but tell them you
do not consent. Remember, you have the right to remain silent, and always ask for a lawyer.
You might be wondering what all this means for your computers, tablets, cameras, or other
devices. While the Riley vs. California ruling isn’t specific, the Supreme Court implied
that the same restrictions may apply. And remember,
police can still search your pockets and items such as your bag and packs of cigarettes.
I’m Josh Blackman, constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston.
Tune in for a live one hour discussion with me to learn more about your constitutional
rights and other privacy concerns. Remember, privacy is a constitutional right
until you give it up.