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When can police search someone’s mobile device?

On Behalf of | Apr 30, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Many people live their lives with their phones in their hands. Smartphones can help people navigate unfamiliar areas, conduct online research and communicate with their friends and co-workers. They can also quickly complicate someone’s legal troubles.

Digital devices are often a treasure trove of embarrassing details, from a record of the websites someone visits to all of the questionable memes they share with their buddies from college in a group chat. There are potentially many bits of information on a device that could make someone look guilty of committing a crime or like an unsavory individual to members of a jury.

When do people have to worry about police officers searching their digital devices to scour for evidence?

Officers typically need a warrant

The good news for those who worry that police officers could easily misconstrue their sense of humor or search engine history is that officers typically cannot just go through people’s electronic devices looking for incriminating evidence. Officers often have to go to a judge to secure the warrant necessary to go through someone’s digital devices without their consent.

A warrant may lead to officers physically taking possession of specific devices or requesting data records from mobile phone service providers and app companies. Whatever officers find could potentially play a role in the case against a defendant.

There are many ways to make devices less dangerous

Simply deleting browsing history or erasing text messages after sending them does not prevent police officers from finding that information if they have a warrant and access to digital records. People need to be aware of how they use their devices and also what information will be available to law enforcement if they have a warrant.

Deleted messages and content marked private on social media can still end up as part of the legal case against an individual accused of a crime. People who take simple steps, like adding a lock screen to their mobile phone, can help protect their digital data from the prying eyes of police officers. Those who know about their right to privacy can better assert themselves when dealing with police officers who want to look at their phones.

Learning more about how police officers use devices against people and when they can do so can help people plan more effective criminal defense strategies and also potentially avoid mistakes that could hurt their legal standing.

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