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Courts grapple with cell phone searches: part one

Posted on December 1, 2012

Many people carry their entire lives around in their phone. A cell phone can hold a person’s appointments, photos, location and communications with everyone they know.

The Constitution grants all Americans certain fundamental rights, including protections against unreasonable or warrantless search and seizure in the Fourth Amendment. But is a person’s cell phone protected as well? As technology continues to shape criminal justice and proceedings, courts and legislators across the country are grappling with questions of privacy and other issues.

Recently, a judge in a murder case in another state threw out evidence found on a cellphone that led to the charges. Another state compared text messages to voice mail messages, which have limited privacy protections because they could theoretically be heard by anyone in a room.

Across the country, courts are unable to agree on whether text messages are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy that would entitle them to Fourth Amendment protections. Part of what makes this issue so complex is the fact that phone records can be considered the property of the phone company, not the person using the device.

In response, a United States Senate committee is considering making limited changes to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. This law regulates how the government may regulate digital communications. Next week we’ll discuss the proposed changes, how they would affect privacy rights and the implications this could have for criminal justice.

If you are facing criminal accusations or charges and feel that your rights may have been threatened or violated, consider speaking with a qualified criminal defense attorney. They can help ensure that your rights are protected in the criminal justice system

Source: New York Times, “Courts divided over searches of cellphones,” Somini Sengupta, Nov. 26, 2012

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