When a law enforcement official pulls you over during a traffic stop in California, are you legally obligated to provide your phone if they ask?
Here’s what to know:
Can police search your phone when they pull you over in California?
The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches by government officials.
“The Fourth Amendment, however, is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law,” the U.S. Federal Courts website states.
California law states that you must provide your cell phone only under certain circumstances.
In a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court case, Riley v. California, justices decided whether police officers are able to search an individual’s cellphone during the time of an arrest.
The case concerned officers searching a suspect’s phone without a warrant and obtaining evidence admitted in court. Ultimately, the court ruled this was in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, according to the Oyez, a multimedia archive for the Supreme Court.
When can California police search my cellphone?
Police must have a search warrant before they can search your phone even if you are under their custody.
If a judge does issue a search warrant, the warrant must specifically include which cellphone is to be searched and the evidence that it is being searched for, the law states.
However, there are a few circumstances when a police officer can search your phone without a warrant, according to the Supreme Court of California.
In People v. Ovieda, the court ruled that police can search your cell phone only under “exigent circumstances.”
The California Supreme Court ruled officers cannot perform a search without a warrant if there are no “exigent circumstances.” Any evidence collected during a warrantless search cannot be used in court, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department website states.
“Exigent circumstances” include when the police have to prevent possible danger to someone, prevent the destruction of evidence in a crime or during the escape of a fleeing suspect.
Police can also search your phone with your consent.
In Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, California ruled that law enforcement can search your phone without a warrant if you voluntarily agree to the search.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that if consent to a search is voluntarily given, the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures does not apply, according to Oyez.
What if the police conduct a search without valid reason?
If the police search your phone without a search warrant, or without exigent circumstances, then you have the legal right to file a motion to have that evidence dismissed.
Due to the information being gathered from an illegal search, the judge can prevent the prosecutor from using any evidence that was taken against the law.
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