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Written by Attorney Seth Morris


When you are arrested in California, it is more common than you might think for law-enforcement officials to attempt to search your phone. However, police may not always have the authority to do so. Evidence obtained from your phone could be used against you at trial.

For this reason, it is essential to obtain a powerful legal advocate to help you prepare your defense and get illegally obtained evidence tossed out.

Contact our criminal defense attorneys in Oakland, CA for a free consultation by calling 510-999-8414today and learn more about your rights when being searched or arrested in California.

What Are Your Rights When Arrested?

According to the United States Supreme Court, when the police arrest you, you are entitled to specific rights. These include:

  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to an attorney
  • The right to decline a search of yourself or your property

You may not be sure whether police have the right to seize or search your phone in the event of your arrest. If your constitutional rights are violated, any evidence obtained during your arrest can be tossed out at trial against you if you have an experienced legal defender advocating for your liberties.

What Happens to Someone’s Cellphone Once They’re Arrested?

When you are placed under arrest, police will retain possession of your phone and other personal items.

Typically, law enforcement does not allow any incarcerated individuals to retain their cell phones for fear they may destroy evidence or they’ll contact any accomplices.

Under What Circumstances Can Police Search Your Cellphone?

Police have the authority to search your cell phone in limited circumstances.

They Have a Warrant

Law enforcement has the right to search your phone if they have a warrant to do so. The warrant will include a list of the items or information that can be seized from your phone, your name, the date the search must be executed, and a judge’s signature.

You Give Them Permission

Police can also search your cell phone if you permit them. For example, if you are stopped by police and an officer asks you if they can go through your cell phone, you have the right to refuse that search. You are under no obligation to give law enforcement permission to search your phone, regardless of guilt.

In Emergency Situations

However, police do have the authority to search cell phones if they believe someone else’s life is in danger or that evidence contained on the phone will be destroyed if they do not. If you think police illegally searched your cell phone during your arrest, make sure you bring up your concerns with your attorney, who can use them to help craft your defense strategy.

What Precedent Was Set After the Ruling of Riley v. California?

In August 2009, in the case of Riley v. California, defendant Riley was stopped by police and found to be driving with expired registration tags and a suspended license.

When police performed an inventory search on the vehicle before impounding it, they discovered two guns and charged Riley with unlawful possession of a firearm. Riley’s phone was confiscated upon his arrest, and police later used evidence obtained from the phone to tie him to an earlier shooting. Because of the digital evidence, Riley was charged with assault with a semi-automatic firearm, shooting at an occupied vehicle, and attempted murder.

Court Ruled Warrantless Cellphone Searches Unconstitutional

At trial, Riley’s defense argued that the evidence obtained through his cell phone should be suppressed since the law enforcement officials did not have the authority to search the phone without a warrant. The U.S. Supreme Court held that warrantless searches of digital content on a cell phone are unconstitutional except in emergency cases.

However, since there are some intricacies in the law, it is essential to get an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side who can help you advocate for your rights when your cell phone has been searched without your consent or a warrant.

What Happens if You Were Unlawfully Searched?

If you were the victim of an unlawful search, your criminal defense attorney will carefully examine the details of your case to determine how to best approach your defense. In most cases where cell phones have been illegally searched, your attorney will be able to get the evidence obtained from this unlawful search dismissed, as it should not be admissible at trial against you.

Your attorney may also work with the state’s prosecuting attorney to get the charges against you reduced or dismissed entirely, particularly if their case relies on illegally obtained cell phone evidence. You can learn more about which defense options may be available when you contact your criminal defense lawyer for help.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help Today

If you believe your constitutional rights have been violated during your arrest and you do not know where to turn for help, reach out to an experienced California criminal defense lawyer at Morris Law.

Our firm is proud to offer free confidential consultations to individuals facing criminal charges across the state of California. Schedule your defense strategy session as soon as today when you complete our secure contact form or call our office.