Last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Police need a warrant to search a cellphone – even if it is incident to an arrest.
In the case of Carpenter v. Florida, a defendant was arrested when he traveled to meet who he thought was a minor (it was, of course, a law enforcement officer). At the time of his arrest, police did a search incident to arrest and confiscated a cellphone, which they had examined by a forensic examiner without obtaining a warrant.
The cellphone contained sexually explicit text messages and photos, which the Police used against him. Although the police could have easily obtained a warrant for the contents of the phone, they didn’t, because they believed they were operating under an exemption to the law. Not so, said the Florida Supreme Court.
It is unconstitutional to search a cellphone without a warranty and the fact that the Police operated under the mistaken belief that they had the right to, does not forgive the constitutional violation. They cited Justice Sotomayor, from the US Supreme Court, who had said, “if law enforcement could ‘rely on non-binding authority, officers would ‘beg forgiveness rather than ask permission in ambiguous situations involving . . . basic civil rights.”
Another win for the constitution!