Can the New Jersey Police Search Your Phone Without a Warrant?

As technology evolves, the law is notoriously slow to catch up. Phones are far more complex than they used to be and often contain vast arrays of deeply private information.

Given the very private nature of much of the information typically contained on a cell phone, the police are required to obtain a search warrant before they search someone’s phone. Cell phones are now so prevalent that you can probably find one in almost every home in the country. Courts have ruled that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding their phone information. If the police obtain your phone, they must have probable cause to support a search warrant, although certain exceptions to the warrant rule might apply in some cases. If you believe your phone was searched illegally, we can help you challenge any evidence taken from your phone.

Phones are not just communication tools but massive digital storage systems. Our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys can help you fight to keep the content of your phone private. For a free case review, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.

When Can Law Enforcement in New Jersey Search Your Phone?

Law enforcement in New Jersey can search your phone only if a valid search warrant permits the search. While people have always been protected from unreasonable and illegal searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, these protections did not always cover phones. The way we use phones is relatively new, and the law has finally caught up.

In 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Riley v. California that the police must obtain a valid search warrant before searching through the digital data on someone’s phone. In the Riley case, the police arrested the defendant, took them back to the police station, and searched their phone for enough evidence to arrest them on a weapons charge. The court reasoned that phones have such large capacities for information storage and often contain uniquely private information, so a phone search cannot be done without a warrant.

This does not mean that law enforcement can never search your phone. If the police legally obtain your phone, have probable cause suggesting incriminating evidence exists on the phone, and obtain a warrant, your phone will be searched. Our Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys can help you fight an illegal search and keep your phone private.

What Happens if the Police Find Your Cell Phone in New Jersey?

If the police find your phone, they might not necessarily be prevented from taking it. Seizing the physical phone is not necessarily illegal, depending on how it happened. For example, a phone found at a crime scene can be seized because it might relate to the crime and be considered evidence. The police might even be able to test the physical phone for things like fingerprints to figure out who owns it. However, searching the digital data on the phone is a different search that requires a warrant.

Obtaining a warrant requires the police to gather probable cause. There is no precise definition of probable cause, and what probable cause looks like tends to vary from case to case. However, most agree that probable cause suggests a crime has been committed, and evidence can be found on your phone. The police must have sufficient probable cause to get a search warrant. Even if they have some evidence, it might not be enough to justify a warrant.

If the police believe they have sufficient probable cause, they must request a warrant from a judge. The judge will evaluate the probable cause and determine if it is sufficient to justify the search. This process might take time depending on how quickly the police obtain probable cause and submit their request for a warrant. Our Avalon criminal defense attorneys can help you challenge any evidence taken from your phone.

When the New Jersey Police Can Search Your Phone Without a Warrant

The warrant requirement in cell phone searches does not apply in every case. Cell phone searches, like various other kinds of searches, may be performed without a warrant if special circumstances exist. It is often difficult to stop a search once the police believe they have a valid exception to the warrant rule. The police’s belief in the exception is often mistaken, and the search results can be suppressed.

The police do not need a warrant to search your phone if they have consent. People do not always realize there is incriminating evidence on their phones, so they consent to the search. If the police ask you if they can search your phone, you should not consent even if you believe you have nothing on your phone worth hiding. Speak to our Brigantine criminal defense attorneys first.

The police can dispense with the warrant requirement during emergencies or certain exigent circumstances. For example, the authorities may conduct a search if they have reason to believe important evidence will be destroyed if they wait to obtain a warrant. If the police believe data on your phone is at risk of being deleted remotely, they might conduct the search without a warrant.

Exceptions to the warrant rule are not valid just because the police say so. If the police conduct a warrantless search because they claim some exception to the warrant rule, we can challenge the search in court and hopefully keep out any evidence found on your phone.

Challenging an Unlawful Search of Your Phone by the New Jersey Police

If the police searched your phone without a warrant, our Cape May criminal defense lawyers can challenge the validity of any evidence seized. In some cases, the police knew the search was unlawful, while in others, they might have relied upon exceptions to the warrant rule. In either circumstance, we can fight to keep the contents of your phone from being used against you in court.

As said earlier, an exception to the warrant rule is not valid just because the police say so. If the police claim an exception existed that allowed the warrantless search, we can challenge the exception. For example, if the police say they were given consent to search the phone, but the consent was given under duress, the consent is not valid, and the search is unlawful.

If the police did have a warrant, we can investigate the probable cause used to support the warrant and look for holes or inconsistencies. The police might have embellished some details of the probable cause to persuade the judge to sign the warrant, or some probable cause might even be falsified.

Speak to Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys About Your Rights

The police should not be able to search your phone without a warrant, and your privacy must be protected. Our Haddonfield criminal defense attorneys will fight to protect you. For a free initial case review, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.

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