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Can Police Search Your Phone

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The Supreme Court is set to begin a debate on just how private people's cell phones are. 

They'll hear arguments Tuesday on whether police need to search the cell phone of someone under arrest. 

The court will look at two cases where suspects are appealing convictions, based on those searches. 

Supporters of the searches say it's no different than going through the wallet of a suspect in custody, which is legal under the law. 

But, critics say the searches violate the fourth amendment protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures."

"The police take cell phones on a regular basis to start flipping though them, downloading, looking at text messages and email," says QC Defense Attorney Steve Hanna.

He explains that as times have changed, phones have become a portable computer for most people and if police want to see what's on it, they need to get a warrant. 

“A lot of times, it’s younger people, maybe minorities, other people that might be of interest,” he explains. “The police try to expand that traffic stop into something more than it is and I think people’s rights to illegal seizures may be being violated.”

At the same time, law enforcement officers say what’s on a phone can be the difference in breaking a case.

“You can use those cell phones to track someone’s movements, to see what numbers they’ve called, to try and tie them even more into a case, than without that cell phone,” explains Maj. Mike Brown from the Scott County Sheriff’s Department.

It’s a fine line though.

If officers find something incriminating without a warrant, that evidence may not be allowed in court.

“An officer would have to get permission or a subpoena or a warrant to take that phone to location to open it up,” Brown explains. “So, you have to have the probable cause and good reason to get that search warrant or subpoena for the records.”



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