Because cell phones, laptops and tablets are ubiquitous within our society, many criminal investigations involve the seizure and search of electronic devices. In some cases, the right to canvass private devices for information is obvious, but in others, law enforcement may overstep their bounds. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court court ruled unanimously in Riley v. California that law enforcement officers must obtain a search warrant before combing through a suspect’s cell phone for information to link him (or her) to a crime.
The high court reasoned that electronic devices could not be randomly searched in the same way as wallets or billfolds. Instead, they are devices that are capable of storing large amounts of privileged and proprietary information that authorities would commonly need a warrant to search. They further explained that the founding fathers intended to have this type of information protected by the Fourth Amendment. Because of this, law enforcement would not be allowed to procure information from electronic devices without a valid search warrant signed by a judge.
So what does that mean for you if you are arrested and have one of these devices (most likely a cell phone) on your person? It means that you cannot be compelled to provide law enforcement with passwords to unlock phones or tablets upon your arrest, and that authorities must establish probable cause in order to obtain a warrant for the search of your device. The warrant must also be specific as to the guidelines regarding the search.
In the meantime, if you are arrested and charged with a crime, having an experienced criminal defense attorney is important in protecting your rights.
The preceding is not legal advice.