It could happen in any number of situations. Maybe you were driving a little too fast and a police officer pulled you over. During the stop, the officer may ask to see your phone. After all, the officer may say, if you do not have anything to hide what is the problem?
The problem, in plain language, is that your phone is your personal property. It is something that carries far more than phone numbers to contact family, friends, and co-workers. It likely has a mapping app that tracks where you are going and where you have been. It may have social media apps on which you share personal details of your life. It may have emails and texts with private information. These are just a few strong reasons to say no to a search of your phone.
But can an officer just take my phone and search it?
If you give them permission, yes, they generally can. So don’t. If you say no, they will likely need to get a warrant to go through your phone. To get a warrant, the officer would need to contact a judge and explain that there is the likelihood of criminal activity and that to thwart this activity they must search your phone. This is not a low bar to pass. Police must convince the judge of the necessity of the search.
If they get the warrant, they could search your phone. However, it is important to note that there are certain things they do not need a warrant to find. We mention social media accounts above. Some posts on social media are public, which is easily accessible to enforcement officers without a warrant. So, as always, be careful about what information you choose to put online.
What if I am charged with a crime after a police officer conducts a stop?
Whether the officer gathered alleged evidence from your phone to justify the charges or has evidence from other means, it is important to take the matter seriously. The officer is required to follow certain, specific rules when conducting a stop and moving forward with an arrest. A failure to follow these rules can result in a reduction or, in rare cases, a dismissal of charges. As a result, it is important to take the time to review the details of the stop and arrest for any potential errors.