Police may require a warrant before searching cell phones - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Police may require a warrant before searching cell phones

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ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

Should police need a warrant before they search the cell phone of someone they're arresting?

It's a question that the Supreme Court is hoping to answer.

The justices said Friday they will hear appeals in two cases which revolve around privacy and technology. Some in South Georgia say police should get search warrants just to be safe.

"We have text messages, we have email, we have photographs, we have recordings, we have video.  And when you talk about all those kinds of things, if the police wanted to seize them from your home, there's no question they would need a warrant to do that," said Attorney Jim Finklestein.

He says police should be required to get a search warrant before looking through your phone even if a person is being arrested.

"I think that if you're talking about something that we all now carry, I mean this is 2014, not 1995, and everybody has a cell phone and everyone has the ability to carry an enormous amount of private information on their cell phones," noted Finklestein. "And I think that there should be a warrant requirement."

The Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals in two cases, in which criminal defendants were convicted and sentenced on the strength of evidence obtained by warrantless searches of cell phones. The cases will be argued in April and decided by late June.

A 40-year-old high court ruling allows warrantless searches of items people are carrying when they're arrested. But lower federal and state courts are divided over whether the ruling should apply to cell phones.

Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards says the search warrant would likely be specific to the crime.

"I would anticipate that the search warrant would encompass just that information," said Edwards. "We don't need everything that's involved in the particular cell phone, but the important issues are when was it used relative to whatever the crime may have been."

For now, legal experts recommend police obtain search warrants just to be safe and support their case.

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