Can Police Search Your Cellphone Without a Warrant in Massachusetts?

Since 2014, following a Supreme Court ruling, police have needed a warrant to search cell phones of criminal suspects. According to the justices, cell phones and other electronic devices belong to a different category than other “closed containers,” such as wallets and vehicles. When law enforcement officers have probable cause, they are able to conduct limited searches of these items. However, due to the extent and type of information that portable electronic devices may contain, the court agreed that they must be treated differently.

Unreasonable Search and Seizure?

Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, “unreasonable searches and seizures” are prohibited. Despite this, warrantless searches are sometimes permitted, when the safety of officers is in jeopardy and, in some cases, when the destruction of evidence is a concern. This is why initial, limited searches of vehicles, wallets, and purses or briefcases are allowed in certain situations. But smart phones are different. This ruling came after criminal suspects in California and Massachusetts were convicted, in separate cases, following a warrantless search of their electronic devices. Using text messages, phone numbers, addresses, and photos found in their devices, officials were able to link them to gang activity. A MA defense attorney can help if you believe your constitutional rights were violated during your arrest.

The 2014 Supreme Court ruling stated that:

”The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.”

Almost Everyone Has a Cellphone

According to a Pew Research Center survey, more than 90 percent of Americans currently have access to a cellphone, and about 58 percent have a “smart phone.” And it’s not just the United States. According to the United Nations, most of the seven billion people on earth have access to mobile devices.”Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse,” remarked Chief Justice John Roberts. “Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person.”

Just as law enforcement cannot search someone’s home without a warrant – except under very specific circumstances – they cannot search a cellphone. As cellphone and smart phone technology is new (relatively speaking), legislation around their searches is complex, and constantly evolving. A Boston defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a crime following a search of your portable electronic device.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Top Criminal Defense Law Firm

If you have been charged with any type of criminal offense, the skilled defense team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. One of the most effective lines of defense in a criminal case becomes available if your constitutional rights were violated. But even if law enforcement did everything “by the book,” the unique circumstances of a case involving the search of electronic devices may work in your favor. Our experienced defense attorneys will find weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and use them to your advantage. It is our goal to keep you out of jail and to keep your record clean. We will analyze the details of your case to determine the most appropriate legal strategy and position you for the best possible outcome. Don’t make the mistake of hiring the wrong attorney. If you are facing criminal charges, we can help. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today

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