U.S. Supreme Court Finds that a Search Warrant is Generally Necessary to Search a Suspect’s Cell Phone

In a June, 2014 opinion, the U.S .Supreme Court decided 2 cases questioning whether the police may conduct a warrantless search of digital information on a cell phone seized in connection with an arrest.  The Court found that digital data stored on cell phones presents neither a risk of imminent physical danger to the police, nor an imminent risk of destruction of evidence.  The Justices unanimously agreed that a police search of cell phone data is overly intrusive.  Absent very rare circumstances where police can demonstrate an exigency exception (like the need to locate a kidnapped child), police must obtain a warrant to search cell phone data, consistent with the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which generally requires that police obtain a warrant before searching a person or their belongings. While it is true that certain warrantless searches are permitted to protect the public and police from physical harm and to prevent the destruction of evidence, the search of cell phone data is not typically needed for these purposes.

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