A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that law enforcement can no longer search through the cell phone of someone they arrest without a search warrant shouldn’t have a huge impact on local officers, according to District Attorney General Tony Clark.
“As far as hindering law enforcement, it will to some degree.” Clark said. “But with the technology we have now, search warrants can be obtained digitally.”
That process can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes, Clark said. Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation during this session that makes digital search warrants an option for officers. All the details have not been worked through, though.
The Supreme Court ruling is based on the fact that a person’s cell phone carries a lifetime of information that should be protected under the Fourth Amendment.
“They said because of technology and smartphones that carry people’s personal information, they think it’s an invasion of a person’s privacy,” Clark said. “The bottom-line ruling was an officer could not longer utilize a cell phone as an investigation tool.”
However, there are certain circumstances under which an officer is allowed to go through someone’s phone without a warrant.
“If there’s exigent circumstances such as a kidnapping, officer safety, public safety, then they could,” Clark said.
Johnson City Police Capt. Mike Street, in a prepared statement, said the department was informed by the U.S. Attorneys office about the Supreme Court ruling.
“We received this from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Effective July 1, 2014, law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search cell phones,” he said, but there are guidelines on when and how officers can do that.
“Of course, the police department will adhere to this law,” Street said.
JCPD Lt. Steve Sherfey said the new ruling won’t have much effect on how he conducts an investigation.
“If it’s a serious case, we would get a search warrant anyway. It may take longer, but if it’s a serious case we’d want to do that,” Sherfey said.
Clark said the Supreme Court’s ruling also indicated that “10 years ago they would not have ruled in this fashion, but with technology they felt it was a Fourth amendment issue.
“It will change how law enforcement handles stops. ... They can still seize the phone and put it into evidence” but just can’t search it until there is a search warrant issued, he said.
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