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Can police seize and search your cell phone?

If you are like numerous other North Carolina residents, you keep your life in your phone. You take it everywhere and pretty much always have it on you. While this works well when you need to check your bank balance or find out where you are meeting friends later, it might not work so well if police stop you.

The U.S. Constitution restricts government officials such as police officers from unlawful searches and seizures. You may believe this automatically extends to your phone, especially if you keep it password-protected, but that may not always be the case.

There are some times when police can search your phone

The law continues to catch up to technological advances. When it comes to getting into your cell phone, the law may allow police officers to seize and search your phone under the following circumstances:

  • If you give an officer permission to look at your phone, you voluntarily gave up any right you had to stop the search. Under most circumstances, you should never consent to a search, but instead make the officer get a search warrant.
  • If an officer places you under arrest, he or she may seize your phone but cannot search its contents beyond removing the battery or the case. The officer needs a search warrant for a closer inspection.
  • Having said that, if officers do obtain a search warrant for your phone from a judge, make sure it lists your cell phone as an item they can seize and search.
  • If your phone is on and openly displaying incriminating information, an officer may use what he or she saw to attempt to obtain a search warrant.
  • Police may be able to legally search your phone if officers believe there is an imminent threat of destroyed evidence by not seizing your phone. An officer must provide reasonable proof of this assertion, however.

If you doubt that a police officer had a legal justification for seizing and searching your phone, you have every right to bring that fact to the attention of the court, especially if the search leads to an arrest. You have rights, and police cannot ignore them because it doesn't suit their purposes. If the court agrees with you, then any evidence gathered from the phone or because of your phone may not make it into court.

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Statesville, NC 28677

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