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Calif. Supremes Allow Cops to Search Cellphone Without Warrant

Posted Jan 4, 2011 9:41 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Police may search a suspect’s cellphone after an arrest without first obtaining a warrant, the California Supreme Court has ruled.

The 5-4 decision found that police had the authority to search text messages on a phone in the pocket of Gregory Diaz, arrested on suspicion of selling Ecstasy to an informant in the back seat of his car, according to the Recorder and the San Francisco Chronicle. One text read “6 4 80,” a possible reference to an $80 price for six pills.

The Ohio Supreme Court reached the opposite conclusion in a December 2009 ruling on cellphone searches, according to the Chronicle story.

The California opinion (PDF) relied on Supreme Court decisions from the 1970s allowing searches of cigarette packs and clothing seized during an arrest. Under the precedents, "this loss of privacy allows police not only to seize anything of importance they find on the arrestee's body ... but also to open and examine what they find," the court said.

Dissenters argued the majority opinion gives the police "carte blanche, with no showing of exigency, to rummage at leisure through the wealth of personal and business information that can be carried on a mobile phone or handheld computer merely because the device was taken from an arrestee's person."

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