Court Says Cops Need A Warrant Even Just To Look At The Screen Of Your Phone

A federal court in Illinois ruled on Wednesday that police officers need a warrant to search someone’s cellphone before making arrest.

An Illinois Federal Court has finally spelt out this rule clearly to the cops, prior to a case, Riley v. California, where an Illinois officer was involved in a sting operation that ensnared an alleged drug dealer.

According to The Vice, Demonte Bell, an alleged drug dealer was accused of possessing illegal AK-47 assault rifle.  A testimony from an officer which says he pulled out a phone from the alleged drug dealer’s pocket during an investigation for evidence. Officer said this cellphone had been used a picture of the illegal rifle as a screen wallpaper. Bell was arrested on this basis where officer based on this as a search warrant.

On Wednesday’s sitting, the judge ruled that police officers have no right to open suspect’s phone or even look at the screen without getting a warrant since the Riley case says it’s a search under the Fourth Amendment.

“Officer Sinks’ opening of Bell’s cell phone exceeded a ‘cursory inspection’ because he exposed to view concealed portions of the object—i.e., the screen,” wrote Judge James E. Shahid. “[B]ecause Officer Sinks had to manipulate the phone to view the picture on the screen, that picture was by definition not in ‘plain view’.”

This is a major privacy victory and it suggests that even if one’s phone isn’t on lock with a passcode, an officer cannot temper with it unless he has a search warrant. This use of force by officers searching on civilians’ items, especially with blacks, has been excessive and turns unconducive; this law will at least liberate civilians from unnecessary application of force on search by police officers.

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