Court: Cell Phone Searches Are Unconstitutional

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By: Garin Flowers

Tallahassee, Fla. -- The Florida Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a law making it harder for cell phone searches.

Authorities will now have to get a warrant before searching the device.

In this day and age many people seem to be attached at the hip with their cell phones, literally and figuratively.

Law enforcement could search someone’s cell phone for video or pictures after an arrest; the Florida Supreme Court has since ruled they need warrants to do so.

"The Florida Supreme Court's ruling is interesting but very appropriate given today's technologies," Jami Coleman, Local Defense Attorney, said.

Jami Coleman, a defense attorney in Tallahassee, believes this gives defendants more rights.

"It makes it a little bit more difficult for the officer to be able to conduct the investigation but at the same time it gives people the protections that the constitution affords,” Coleman said.

The ruling overturns the decision made by the 1st District Court of Appeal. The court ruled that cell phone searches are legal, but called upon the higher court to pick up the issue.

"Law enforcement routinely gathers all sorts of evidence that is used at a later date in time from electronic devices,” Lt. James McQuiag, Leon County Sheriff’s Office, said.

The spokesman for the Leon County Sheriff's Office says it's just important for them to know the rules.

"It doesn't matter what decision is made by the courts, we just need to know what that decision is so that we can properly enforce it,” McQuiag said.

The ruling stemmed from a 2008 criminal case in Jacksonville, where a man's cell phone was viewed after being arrested.

Associated Press Release

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that a warrantless police search of an arrested person's mobile phone is unconstitutional.

The court ruled 7-2 on Thursday in a case out of Jacksonville.

The majority opinion said law enforcement officers rightly took the defendant's cell phone while he was being physically searched. But "a warrant was required before the information, data, and content of the cell phone could be accessed and searched."

The dissenting justices noted that four federal appeals courts have ruled that searching a cell phone found on someone arrested is "within the proper scope of a search incident to arrest."

The case is Smallwood v. Florida, No. SC11-1130.

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