Some Cell Phone Searches Ruled Unconstitutional

RENO, NV - In family court here in Washoe County, temporary protection orders are issued frequently.

Sometimes a person can return here because the T-P-O has been violated. And many times that fact is confirmed with a look at the man or woman's cell phone.

“A lot of times before that it was 'he said, she said,' or there were third-party witnesses. Now texts are written communication. Facebook, emails, all of these things are a stronger evidence and a growing part of our evidence in family court,” says Judge Linda Gardner.

Information contained on your cell phone or anyone's cell phone could provide powerful evidence in a criminal case.

But the Supreme Court says that information is going to require a search warrant before it is handed over.

In a nine-to-zero ruling, the court said law enforcement must obtain the court-ordered document before it can confiscate and pull information from a person's cell phone.

In the ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “...allowing police to look at a cell phone was more akin to allowing them to ransack a person's home."

The ruling helps lower courts and their struggle with privacy issues and modern technology.

But the court also acknowledged its ruling might have a negative impact on police and their ability to investigate criminal cases.

The Reno Police Department says it is already complying with the ruling.

”It has been the policy of the Reno Police Department, whether from the patrol officers to the detectives, that we do not just arbitrarily go into cell phones, or even cameras for that matter, to get evidence without going through the proper procedures, without applying for the proper search warrants,” says Tim Broadway with the Reno Police Department.

Two different cases involving law enforcement and confiscated cell phone information were on the line in this Supreme Court decision.

One ruling overturned one defendant's conviction, and upheld the other.