Your phone is a major part of your life. It lets you communicate with others and store crucial information. You can file an insurance claim or record your daughter’s first steps with the same device. The way that people use mobile devices also makes them a potential treasure trove of evidence for the state when you face criminal charges.
Even when you haven’t done anything wrong, some of the information on your phone might make you look bad to the courts or potentially implicate you in criminal activity. You likely understand that there are limits to when the police can search your home or your car, but you may not understand the rules that apply to your mobile phone.
Can the police search your phone without a warrant?
Police need your consent if they don’t have a warrant
A police officer cannot just search through your phone to try to find evidence of misconduct when they suspect you of a crime. They either need to convince a judge that your phone contains important evidence so that they can get a warrant or they need your permission.
If you give an officer your permission to go through your device, they can use anything they find against you. Refusing to let them go through your phone is not an admission of guilt. It is merely an assertion of your rights. The only kind of search the police officer can perform on a phone with neither a warrant nor your permission is a cursory inspection to check the phone for any kind of weapon, like a hidden blade.
Once an officer knows the phone does not conceal a weapon, they cannot continue searching its contents without a warrant or permission from the device’s owner. A violation of your rights could help your defense. If a police officer performs an illegal search, their misconduct can potentially play a role in your defense strategy.
A defense attorney can ask the courts to exclude evidence obtained through an inappropriate search, thereby limiting what the prosecution has to build their case. Knowing your rights can help you identify when something inappropriate happens and can aid you in the development of a criminal defense strategy.