In this modern digital age, almost everyone has a cell phone. We all walk
around with an endless amount of information in the palm of our hands
or in our pockets. However, some of this information on our cell phones
can be highly sensitive and contain the most intimate details of our personal
lives including text messages, photos, videos, emails, bank records, and
The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects us from unreasonable
searches and seizures. Generally, law enforcement officers need a warrant
from a judge based on probable cause before conducting a search of personal
property. But there are exceptions to this warrant requirement. One such
exception allows a warrantless search to be conducted pursuant to a lawful
arrest. When a person is lawfully arrested, police can search their clothing
and possessions for contraband.
So can police search digital information on a cell phone seized from an
arrested individual without a warrant? Last year the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals, the state supreme court for criminal cases, dealt with this issue. In
Texas v. Granville, the court ruled that
Texas police can no longer search someone’s cell phone without a
warrant after they’ve been arrested. In an 8 to 1 vote, the court rejected prosecutors’ arguments that
police officials may search any item belonging to an inmate if there is
probable cause to believe a law had been broken. Because cell phones contain
a vast array of private information, the court recognized that Texans
have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their cell
phones even when in a jail inventory.
The case arose from Anthony Granville’s arrest in November 2010 for
causing a disturbance on a Huntsville High School bus. His cell phone
and other possessions were placed in a jail property room. Later that
day, a Huntsville police officer learned that Granville may have used
his phone to photograph another student urinating in a campus bathroom.
The officer, who was not involved in Granville’s arrest, drove to
the jail and went through the confiscated phone to locate the picture
in question. Granville was charged with improper photography, but his
defense counsel asked the court to suppress the photo, arguing that it
was found during an unlawful search. The trial judge, the 7th Court of
Appeals in Amarillo, and Court of Criminal Appeals all agreed.
This means that Texas police must now get a warrant based on probable cause
from a judge before searching the cell phone of anyone they arrest. They
can no longer casually read every text message or examine every photo
from phones in the jail inventory.
If you have become the victim of an illegal search or seizure while in
jail, call the
The Alband Law Firm to schedule a
free case evaluation.