Brown Says No Warrant Needed for Cell Phone Searches
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Oct. 9 that would require search warrants before the contents of a person’s cell phone can legally be examined.
“Courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizures protections,” Brown wrote in a three-sentence veto message.
The bill would have overturned a California Supreme Court decision issued in January that said law enforcement officers could lawfully search the cell phones of people who they arrest.
Looking at a phone’s content is incidental to the arrest, the majority of the court held, and doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.
A primary justification for “incidental” searches is to ensure there are no concealed weapons or evidence the arrestee might wish to destroy.
Justice Kathryn Werdegar on the state high court said the cell phone went beyond incidental:
“A contemporary smartphone can hold hundreds or thousands of messages, photographs, videos, maps, contacts, financial records, memoranda and other documents as well as records of the user’s telephone calls and Web browsing.
“Never before has it been possible to carry so much personal or business information in one’s pocket or purse.
“The potential impairment to privacy if arrestees’ mobile phones and handheld computers are treated like clothing or cigarette packages, fully searchable without probable cause or a warrant, is correspondingly great.”
A search warrant should be required, she concluded, just as one is for the contents of a computer.
In the case, People v. Diaz, a Ventura County Sheriff deputy examined the phone of Gregory Diaz after Diaz had been arrested and placed in custody on suspicion of selling Ecstasy.
The text message folder of Diaz’ phone contained the following: “6 4 80,” which the deputy interpreted to mean six pills for $80.
Diaz was confronted with the text. He now confessed after previously denying making the sale.
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