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When can police seize my cell phone?

Posted by Neil Shouse | May 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

When the police have a search warrant, if you were doing something illegal with the cell phone, or if the cell phone contains evidence.

Smartphone stack phonesearch
Police can seize a person's cell phone if they have a warrant, if the phone contains evidence, or if the person was using the cell phone for illegal activities.

The U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. Traditionally, police searches consisted of searching one's home, car, or pockets for weapons and drugs. In the last twenty years, police often seized one's personal computers. And now with the ubiquity of mobile technology, police are frequently seizing one's cell phones.

There are three main circumstances under which law enforcement may seize your cell phones:

  1. The police have secured a valid search warrant signed by a judge that specifically authorizes the police to take the cell phone. But note that it may be possible for you to later contest the validity of the search warrant by arguing that it was improperly obtained or was overbroad.
  2. You were using the cell phone for an illegal purpose. Examples including using it to film child pornography or stealing someone's identity.
  3. The police have reason to believe your cell phone contains evidence. For instance, if the police witnessed you selling drugs, the police would presume your cell phone contains communications between yourself and the drug buyer.

When cops seize cell phones, they have a duty not to erase or change any of the data on the cell phone. Read more on Nevada search and seizure laws.  

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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