A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision came out positively on the issue of privacy in police searches. As readers know, police are generally required to obtain a warrant before conducting a search on a criminal suspect, unless some exception applies. In search and seizure law, police continually come up against new types of searches, particularly as it relates to technology. In this case, the issue was police searches of cell phones.
The first issue to be decided in such cases is always whether a search is even at stake. Not every case where officers examine a person, their belongings or a property is considered a search. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, police examination of a criminal suspect’s cellphone is indeed a search. Because of this, police need a warrant to do so. Exceptions to the rule on cellphone searches could apply, though, as with any other type of search.
The purpose of establishing limits in police searches is, of course, to ensure public privacy. Officers who fail to respect the privacy of criminal suspects can end up weakening any case prosecutors may choose to bring to trial down the line. For criminal defendants involved in a case with search issues, it is important to build a strong case and to take advantage of any protections available.
One such protection, which can be available in cases involving drug charges, is the ability to exclude from trial evidence obtained by means of an illegal search. The ability to exclude incriminating evidence can give a criminal defendant an advantage, and should be taken advantage of when available.
Source: CNN Justice, “Supreme Court: Police need warrant to search cell phones,” Bill Mears, June 25, 2014.