Supreme Court Says Cell Phones Can’t Be Searched Without a Warrant

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In a sweeping victory for privacy rights in the digital age, the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that the police need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court, was keenly alert to the central role that cellphones play in contemporary life. They are, he said, “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” But he added that old principles required that their contents be protected from routine searches. One of the driving forces behind the American Revolution, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, was revulsion against “general warrants,” which “allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity.” “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand,” the chief justice also wrote, “does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the founders fought.”

The courts have long allowed warrantless searches in connection with arrests, saying they are justified by the need to protect police officers and to prevent the destruction of evidence. But Chief Justice Roberts said neither justification made much sense in the context of cellphones. While the police may examine a cellphone to see if it contains, say, a razor blade, he wrote, “once an officer has secured a phone and eliminated any potential physical threats, however, data on the phone can endanger no one.” Should the police confront an authentic “now or never” situation, the chief justice wrote, they may well be entitled to search the phone under a separate strand of Fourth Amendment law, one concerning “exigent circumstances.” On the other side of the balance, Chief Justice Roberts said, is the data contained on typical cellphones. Ninety percent of Americans have them, he wrote, and they contain “a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives — from the mundane to the intimate.” He wrote, “According to one poll, nearly three-quarters of smartphone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12 percent admitting that they even use their phones in the shower.” Even the word cellphone is a misnomer, he said. “They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, Rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps or newspapers,” he wrote.

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KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: MIRANDA WARNING

797567676d71bf4140de3e2039bc0891Miranda Rights

Anyone who has a TV and a vague understanding of how our legal system works has heard of Miranda Rights, even if they do not understand what they mean. I think it is fair to say that every American has at one time or another heard the words, “You have the right to remain silent,” either from TV shows or other forms of media. Cop dramas almost never state the full Miranda Rights and most people do not fully understand when these warnings are implemented or why. Because of this, there is a misconception that if you are arrested and an officer does not recite the Miranda warnings, you can use that as an argument to get your case dismissed. This is far from true.

What Exactly Are Miranda Rights?

In 1966, numerous cases involving interrogations resulted in admissions and written statements because the defendants did not know about their rights during the interrogation process. The Supreme Court ruled that collecting this self-incriminating evidence while the suspect was unaware of his or her rights was unlawful. The Miranda warnings are a serious of statements that law enforcement officers use in order to remind suspects of these rights.

The Miranda Rights state that:

  • You have the right to remain silent
  • Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law
  • You have the right to an attorney
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you
  • You can invoke your right to remain silent during an interrogation
  • If you invoke your right to remain silent or your right to an attorney, the interrogation must stop or stop until the attorney is present

miranda-warning

These warnings are issued in two specific situations: when the suspect is in police custody and when the suspect is under interrogation. The police are not required to issue these warnings unless these specific situations exists.

Reality vs. Myth

Just because a police officer does not read you the Miranda warnings doesn’t mean you get a “get out of jail free” pass. In actuality, it means that the police simply cannot use anything you say as evidence against you in court. Without your rights being recited, anything you say that is self-incriminating cannot be used against you. Furthermore, if you say something that leads the police to discover physical evidence of a crime; then that evidence cannot be used against you in court. Once the rights have been read and you have verbally accepted them (silence does not count as a confirmation), then what you say may be used in court.

Invoking Your Rights

It is imperative that if you are arrested you take full advantage of your rights. Do not answer questions and request an attorney. Because anything you say can be used against you, it is imperative to say nothing, even if you think it is harmless.

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