Court OKs searches of cell phones without warrant

Bob Egelko
SF Chronicle

The California Supreme Court allowed police Monday to search arrestees’ cell phones without a warrant, saying defendants lose their privacy rights for any items they’re carrying when taken into custody.

Under U.S. Supreme Court 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 state court said in a 5-2 ruling.

The majority, led by Justice Ming Chin, relied on decisions in the 1970s by the nation’s high court upholding searches of cigarette packages and clothing that officers seized during an arrest and examined later without seeking a warrant from a judge.

The dissenting justices said those rulings shouldn’t be extended to modern cell phones that can store huge amounts of data.

Monday’s decision allows police “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,” said Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, joined in dissent by Justice Carlos Moreno. 

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