You get pulled over and the police want to search your phone. What are your legal rights?
You got pulled over for speeding. Police smell marijuana in your vehicle and want to search you. They reach for your phone, which is sitting in the center console of the car. Can they legally take it?
Police have to follow the law when it comes to search and seizure, and the laws are strict. The laws are set by the Supreme Court, but the Fourth Amendment does not specifically mention anything about technology such as cell phones. So, what are the laws as to what police can and cannot search?
A Search Warrant is Needed
The police cannot legally take possession of your phone without a search warrant. They can search you and your pockets, but they cannot look through your phone and other possessions.
However, the police do not want you to know this. If they try to take your phone and you tell them “no,” they will often try to pressure you. The police officer may lie to you or use force. In some cases, they may even use a fake search warrant.
However, you should stand firm if there is no valid search warrant in place. The police officer could still take your cell phone to search it, but that would be considered an illegal search. Any evidence the officer finds can be suppressed. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn more.
Your Legal Rights
Police officers may try to take your phone, but you do have legal rights. Under the Fourth Amendment, you are protected from illegal search and seizure. This means that you do not have to give up your phone if there is no court order in place. You can tell the police officer “no” and they cannot legally do anything about it.
If police are looking for specific information on your phone, they must get it in a certain manner, based on the rules of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. For example, police may need a warrant, subpoena, or court order. The Stored Communications Act states that service providers must have those orders before they can give the information to law enforcement officials.
What this means is that if police really want the information off your phone, they can easily get it if they go through the proper channels. They can even ask a friend for their phone to see what you two sent each other. If your friend is willing to hand over their phone, then no search warrant is required. The Fourth Amendment does not extend to third parties when it comes to your information.
Contact Our Travis County Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you have been arrested, it is important that you understand search and seizure laws. While you do not have to give police your phone, they can still find ways to access information off of it.
Police officers must follow strict requirements. If you believe your legal rights have been violated, contact the Austin criminal defense attorneys at Granger and Mueller PC. We can assess your case and determine if a search warrant was needed. To schedule a consultation, call (512) 474-9999 or fill out the online form.