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Your cellphone and your rights

You probably keep many things on your cellphone. In addition to music, pictures and your favorite apps, you may have text messages archived or favorite websites bookmarked. If you are like many in Wisconsin, your phone is password protected because of the private information it contains.

What happens if police arrest you for a crime and suspect that you have evidence on your phone? Maybe they think you have photos of the crime or text messages that give details about your involvement. You probably know that police can't search your house or car without a warrant or probable cause, but can they search your phone?

The Supreme Court ruling

While different states may be facing controversies because of their rulings in this area, the U.S. Supreme Court made its judgement earlier this year. The judges unanimously decided that, in the same way the Constitution protects your personal computer from an illegal search, police cannot search your cellphone without a warrant.

Their ruling followed cases in two states in which police used evidence found on a cellphone to incriminate a suspect. Just as law enforcement cannot search your home after they arrest you unless they obtain a warrant, so they cannot search the contents of your cellphone without a warrant. The only exceptions may include the following:

  • The phone contains information that may protect people who are in immediate danger.
  • Evidence on the phone may be destroyed if police must wait for a warrant.

Nevertheless, the justices acknowledged that future decisions could change this ruling as technology evolves and situations reveal a greater need for the protection of cellphone owners or for law enforcement privileges.

An advocate for your rights

If you have gone about your daily life for years, you may not realize how laws protecting your rights have not kept up with technology. Additionally, you may not be aware of the laws that do exist to protect your privacy and your freedom from self-incrimination. Law enforcement may take advantage of your vulnerability in this area to trick you into handing over evidence that they can use against you.

Your best ally will be someone who knows the law and understands the tactics police and prosecutors use to get a conviction. An attorney with years of experience defending those accused of crimes will know what evidence to challenge and the best defense strategies to bring about a positive resolution for your situation.

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