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Search of cell phone incident to arrest

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Overview Edit

It seems indisputable that a person has a subjective expectation of privacy in the contents of his or her cell phone.[1] Decisions of district courts and Courts of Appeals (often analogizing cell phones to the earlier pager technology) trend heavily in favor of finding that the search incident to arrest or exigent circumstances exceptions apply to searches of the contents of cell phones.[2]

References Edit

  1. See, e.g., United States v. Finley, 477 F.3d 250, 259-60 (5th Cir. 2007) (defendant had a sufficient privacy interest in his cell phone's call records and text messages to challenge their search; the search of the stored text messages, however, was permissible as incident to a valid arrest).
  2. See United States v. Mercado-Nava, 486 F.Supp.2d 1271, 1277 (D. Kan. 2007) (the same exceptions apply to warrantless searches of cell phones under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act as any other warrantless search); United States v. Deans, 549 F.Supp.2d 1085, 1094 (D. Minn. 2008) (agreeing with the Fifth Circuit that, "if a cell phone is lawfully seized, officers may also search any data electronically stored in the device"); United States v. Valdez, 2008 WL 360548, at *3 (E.D. Wis. Feb. 8, 2008) (search of defendant's phone was contemporaneous with his arrest and the officer was reasonably concerned that if he delayed, the information on the phone would be lost); United States v. Lottie, 2008 WL 150046, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Jan. 14, 2008) (warrantless search of a cell phone justified by exigent circumstances); United States v. Dennis, 2007 WL 3400500, at *7 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 13, 2007) (search of a cell phone incident to valid arrest no different from the search of any other type of evidence seized incident to arrest); United States v. Parada, 289 F.Supp.2d 1291, 1304 (D. Kan. 2003) (phone seized incident to valid arrest; exigent circumstances justified accessing cell phone's call records because continuing incoming calls would overwrite memory and destroy evidence); Cf. United States v. Morales-Ortiz, 376 F.Supp.2d 1131 (D.N.M. 2004) (otherwise unlawful search of cell phone's memory for names and numbers was justified under the inevitable discovery doctrine); United States v. James, 2008 WL 1925032 (E.D. Mo. April 29, 2008) ("[T]he automobile exception allows the search of the cell phone just as it allows a search of other closed containers found in vehicles."). But see United States v. Wall, 2008 WL 5381412, at *3-4 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 22, 2008) (declining to follow Finley; exigent circumstances might justify a warrantless search of a cell phone; but declining to allow a search of arrestee's cell phone incident to arrest; likening information stored in cell phone to a sealed letter); United States v. Quintana, 594 F.Supp.2d 1291, 1299 (M.D. Fla. 2009) (officers may be justified in searching the contents of a cell phone for evidence related to the crime of arrest, but "[w]hether a cell phone may be searched incident to an arrest to prevent the destruction or concealment of evidence of another crime is a different issue."); United States v. Park, 2007 WL 1521573, at *9 (N.D. Cal. May 23, 2007) (based on "the quantity and quality of information that can be stored" a cell phone "should not be characterized as an element of an individual's clothing or person [subject to search incident to arrest], but rather as a 'possession within an arrestee's immediate control that has fourth amendment protection at the station house.'"). See also United States v. Reyes, 922 F. Supp. 818, 834 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (warrantless searches of the stored memory of two pagers justified (i) as incident to arrest and (ii) by general consent); United States v. Chan, 830 F. Supp. 531, 535-36 (N.D. Cal. 1993) (warrantless search of pager memory comparable to a search of container contents; search was not so remote in time to invalidate it as a search incident to arrest); United States v. Diaz-Lizaraza, 981 F.2d 1216, 1223 (11th Cir. 1993) (agents reasonably activated defendant's pager to confirm its number). Cf. United States v. Thomas, 114 F.3d 403, 404 n.2 (3d Cir. 1997) (noting in dicta that the retrieval of a phone number from a pager found on defendant was a valid search incident to arrest).

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