Can the Police Search Your Phone?

Recent statistics show that 92% of Americans own at least one smartphone. These devices are more than tools – they have become part of our identity and contain a lot of personal information. The question is: if you are accused of a crime, can the police take possession and search your smartphone?

An Evansville criminal defense lawyer explains what you need to know on this topic and how far you can protect your privacy.

Police Officers Have the Right to Seize Your Phone

Here is the fact: once you are arrested for a crime, the police can frisk you and seize any item without a warrant. This includes your smartphone. However, while they can take possession, they cannot search your mobile phone without a warrant.

They have the right to hold it until your case is resolved in any manner:

  • Your charges are dropped before getting to court
  • Your case goes before a judge who dismisses the charges
  • Your case goes to trial

Your attorney can file a request with the court to the effect that the court should give the state a deadline to obtain a warrant for downloading information from your device. Once they obtain the information, the State has to give you back the device.

Giving Permission for the Police to Search Your Smartphone

In some cases, you may feel pressured to give police permission to search your phone. Remember that you have the right to refuse this permission. The refusal does not mean that you are admitting guilt for the crime you are accused of.

Also, you have the right to limit the scope of the search in your phone. You can indicate the apps, functions and screens the police officers can access and retrieve as evidence. Also, you can withdraw the consent at any moment.

the police need a warrant to search your phone

Impact of the Katelin Eunjoo Seo Case on Phone Searches

Now, you may wonder – what happens if the police obtain a warrant to search my phone and it is locked with a password? Must I unlock it to give them access to the information?

Katelin Eunjoo Seo was in this precise position in 2017. She was charged with invasion of privacy and stalking and the police believed that her iPhone contained information they could use as evidence against her.

So they obtained a warrant to search her mobile phone. When she refused to unlock it, the police obtained a further warrant obliging Ms. Seo to unlock the phone. She invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to comply. As a result, she was held in contempt of the court.

The case came before the Indiana Supreme Court, which sided with Ms. Seo stating that forcing her to unlock her phone violated her right against self-incrimination.

The Apple Stance on Phone Encryption

During discussions with your Evansville criminal defense attorney you may refer to the encryption level provided by Apple, the company that makes the iPhone smartphone. The company famously refused to provide the Federal Bureau of Investigations with a solution to bypass the password on a locked iPhone.

The company maintained its stance over the years, causing a negative reaction from Attorney General William Barr in 2020. It is important to understand that legal matters are not resolved in this manner – by invoking a company’s refusal to make changes to its own products as a defense.

Can Information from Your Phone Be Used Against You?

If the prosecution obtains information from your smartphone in a lawful manner, it will be admissible in court and used against you. However, an experienced attorney will analyze carefully the manner in which the police accessed the contents of your phone and retrieved the evidence to identify any mistakes.

Let a Skilled Evansville Criminal Defense Lawyer Protect Your Rights!

If you were charged with a crime and the police seized your smartphone, reach out to an Evansville criminal defense lawyer to understand how to protect your rights under the Fifth Amendment.

At the same time, Verdelski Miller will start building your defense, relying on over three decades of experience and 85 jury trials.

As a new client, you benefit from a free case evaluation, so call us today at 812-247-6453!

Read More Related Articles

robbery and burglary are two different criminal offenses

Robbery Vs. Burglary In Indiana

While many people believe that the terms robbery and burglary mean the same thing, these are separate crimes in Indiana. So what is the difference?