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Can the Philadelphia Police Search Your Cell Phone?

Cell phones contain data about almost every aspect of our personal lives. While the police might pick up a cell phone at a crime scene, searching it is a different story.

Although the law is notoriously slow in catching up with technology, courts have ruled that law enforcement officials need a search warrant to search a cell phone. Even if the police obtain a cell phone, they do not necessarily have the right to search it without a warrant. The data on a cell phone is vast and personal; searching one without a warrant would be an unlawful invasion of privacy. After the police seize a cell phone, they will need to gather enough probable cause to convince a judge that evidence of ac rime is contained within the phone. Without a warrant or exigent circumstances, a cell phone search is illegal.

If the police seized your cell phone, you should contact a lawyer for help immediately. Call our Philadelphia search and seizure lawyers for a free case assessment today. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.

Can the Philadelphia Police Go Through My Cell Phone?

As cell phones have evolved, they have become capable of containing far more than a few phone numbers. Information like addresses, text messages, emails, photos, and more are stored on cell phones. As such, searching a cell phone is not simply done on a whim. If the police seized your cell phone and want to search it, talk to our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys about how to protect your rights and privacy,

Personal Data

Cell phone searches are not like ordinary searches. In a standard search, the police may look through a particular area, like your home or office. A cell phone is different because it is not a location but an object, and the information contained within it is deeply personal.

The police must have a search warrant to access your personal data on your cell phone. Information like private text messages, emails, pictures, videos, social media, and more can be found on a person’s cell phone. The private nature of cell phones makes a warrantless search unlawful without some exigent circumstances.

Cell-Site Location Information

Personal data is not the only thing the police might find on a person’s cell phone. Cell-site location information (CSLI) can also be accessed. CSLI may reveal where the cell phone has physically traveled and can shed light on locations the owner has been to. In the past, the authorities did not need a warrant to access CSLI data. However, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that this data should be protected, and warrants are necessary.

CSLI data comes from nearby cell towers and is constantly being generated. When cell phones are near these towners, they “ping” and generate data about the location. This data can be used to determine a person’s whereabouts and possibly incriminate them.

What Happens After the Philadelphia Police Seize My Cell Phone?

After the Philadelphia police seize your cell phone, they will begin gathering probable cause to get a warrant so they can search the contents of the phone. The definition of probable cause is vague and broad. Almost anything can be probable cause if it suggests that a crime has been committed and evidence of the crime is on your phone.

The police must have enough probable cause to convince a judge that a search warrant should be granted. The amount of probable cause that may be deemed sufficient also varies depending on the circumstances. In any case, probable cause must be real and articulable. The police cannot cite things like their intuition, gut instincts, or flimsy evidence as probable cause.

The police do not usually obtain search warrants immediately after seizing a cell phone. There may be some time between the seizure and the search. This gives our Montgomery County criminal defense lawyers time to challenge the seizure of the cell phone and hopefully prevent law enforcement from searching it.

Challenging Unlawful Searches of Cellphones in Philadelphia

If you believe the police illegally searched your phone, our Northeast Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can help you challenge any evidence found resulting from the search. If we can successfully challenge the evidence, it cannot be sued against you in court.

A motion to suppress is a pretrial motion we can file to keep certain evidence out of your trial. When the police conduct a search, they must abide by strict legal procedures, including the warrant requirement. Warrantless searches or searches that do not meet exigent conditions are unlawful, and we can suppress any tainted evidence.

Even if the police seized your phone under lawful circumstances, the subsequent search must meet additional legal criteria. Specifically, the police need a search warrant. If no warrant is obtained for the search, and incriminating evidence from the phone must be suppressed.

How the police obtained your cell phone is important to consider. The police usually need a warrant to seize evidence. However, a warrant is unnecessary if the seizure is connected to your arrest, you consented to the seizure, or there are other special circumstances. If the phone seizure was illegal, evidence gathered in a subsequent search will also be illegal, even if the police got a warrant to search.

Can the Philadelphia Police Search My Cell Phone if it is Unlocked?

Cell phones nowadays have multiple security features, including the ability to lock. Unlocking a phone often involves entering a passcode only the phone’s owner knows. If, for whatever reason, your phone is unlocked when the police obtain it, the police still must obtain a warrant to search the phone.

In 2018, in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Commonwealth v. Fulton, the court held that an unlocked phone is not an invitation for the police to search. Phones contain private information, and searching one without a warrant would violate someone’s privacy and the Fourth Amendment. If your phone was unlocked when the police obtained it, our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can help you fight to protect your rights and privacy.

Call Our Philadelphia Search and Seizure Lawyers for Advice

Cell phones contain extremely sensitive information about various aspects of a person’s personal life. A search of someone’s cell phone might be a massive violation. Our Philadelphia search and seizure lawyers can help you challenge a search and suppress evidence. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free case review.