The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled in a 5-2 decision that law enforcement officers do not have unlimited access to your cell phone upon arrest. The case of Smallwood v. State invloved a man arrested and covicted of robbery. Photo evidence used by prosecutors against Mr. Smallwood at trial was retrieved by law enforcement officers upon search of his cell phone after the arrest.
Ultimately, the court ruled that while officers in the instant case properly separated and assumed possession of the cell phone from the defendant’s person during search incident to arrest, a warrant was required before information, data, and content of the cell phone could be accessed and searched by law enforcement.
This ruling clears up conflict between lower court decisions and sheds light on how the court may view future cases involving technology and privacy concerns as seen in this statement:
…in recent years, the capabilities of these small electronic devices have
expanded to the extent that most types are now interactive, computer-like
devices. Vast amounts of private, personal information can be stored and
accessed in or through these small electronic devices, including not just phone
numbers and call history, but also photos, videos, bank records, medical
information, daily planners, and even correspondence between individuals through
applications such as Facebook and Twitter. The most private and secret personal
information and data is contained in or accessed through small portable
electronic devices and, indeed, many people now store documents on their
equipment that also operates as a phone that, twenty years ago, were stored and
located only in home offices, in safes, or on home computers.
If you have legal questions or concerns about this criminal law topic, or any other area of law, please don’t hesitate to contact us.