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Can the police search a cell phone without a warrant?

by | Mar 22, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Imagine getting stopped for any kind of traffic stop. Maybe you were speeding, or perhaps the officer thought you seemed intoxicated. Whatever the reason was, if you’re sitting there speaking with the officer, you might be concerned that they’ll want to search your vehicle or look through your things.

The truth is that for a real search of your items, the officer needs to have a warrant in most cases. If they don’t have a warrant, then the only reason that they could go through your belongings is if a drug dog hits on your vehicle or if they believe that you, they or the general public are in immediate danger. They need to have probable cause, so the abovementioned situations aren’t the only times when they’ll have a right to search, but just know that they need a very good, serious reason to do so without a warrant or could face penalties themselves.

What about a cell phone? Can an officer read your phone?

This is another time when you should know your rights if you’re asked for your belongings. An officer may not take your phone and read it unless they have a warrant or probable cause to do so. For example, if they think that someone calling you is part of a bomb plot or that you’re using the phone in the immediate commission of a crime, at that moment, then they may take it and search it.

For the general person, the answer is no, though. The officer cannot take your phone and look through it without a warrant. In most cases, there is nothing pressing enough about a traffic stop to allow an officer to search your phone or even to have a reason to ask for it. You are allowed to refuse to give them the phone to search, and you do not have to give permission without seeing a warrant.

If you have questions about the way your belongings were handled during a recent traffic stop, remember to talk to your attorney. You can refuse to have your belongings searched under most circumstances.