The Law Office of Lance Fletcher Reviews T2014's Biggest Changes in the Law
Police Need Search Warrant to Access Data on Cell Phones
The United States Supreme Court decided United States v. Wurie and
Riley v. California ruling that even if there was probable cause to believe that information relating to the arrest crime was on a cell phone, police would need to obtain a search warrant in order to access it.
The Court noted however that police can rely on "exigent circumstances" in order to access information on a cell phone without first obtaining a search warrant. Exigent circumstances are essentially emergency circumstances such as where evidence is about to be destroyed or a person will be injured. The Court gave examples of a child abductor who may have information about the child's location on his cell phone, or a suspect texting an accomplice who is preparing to detonate a bomb. These examples show possible imminent harm to people. But the Court also noted that possible destruction of evidence can also qualify as exigent circumstances.
In sum, the police need to get a search warrant to access data on phone unless there is an imminent risk of harm to other people or evidence would be destroyed otherwise.