Cell Phone Searches after Arrest: Recent Supreme Court Case may change rights in Pennsylvania

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Oral arguments were recently given for two cases dealing with whether the police, after arresting an individual, can search the individual’s cell phone without a warrant. This issue arose due to the ability of the police to search an individual post arrest and evaluate their findings–therefore, the question became, can they also go through the detained individual’s cell phone, or is this too much of an invasion of privacy?

The government’s position in the case angles itself around this point that the police have the right (post arrest) to search the individual’s person and items within their immediate control. A strong argument they may have is the importance of securing evidence that may be lost or destroyed. If crucial data is deleted off the cell phone, it may severely impact the strength of the government’s case. Conversely, if the officers were to simply secure the phone itself and admit it into evidence without going through it, the same goal could arguably be accomplished. The gray area arises when the police need additional information while at the scene of the crime. For example, if the arrestee had obviously acted in concert with other individuals, proof off their cell phone could lead the police to subsequent arrests. This example, however, must be kept in perspective with the right of privacy the individual maintains.

Another additional factor to this issue is the nature of the cell phone. There is a stark difference in the amount of data as well as the functionality of a basic flip phone versus any smart phone. One operates as a solely communicative device, while the other operates as that as well as a mini operating system reflecting the day to day data and virtual footsteps of an individual’s life. Obviously, individuals with a smartphone have a lot more privacy to lose if the Supreme Court allows such a search.

As of now, only oral arguments have occurred, however it will be very interesting to watch this case unfold and further understand our Supreme Court’s attitude toward individual privacy.

If you run into criminal legal trouble and need to know your rights, contact Jill Sinatraof Lisa Marie Vari & Associates, P.C.!