Cell phone search requires a warrant, Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a decision on cell phone searches that confirms that the devices may not be searched without a warrant. The Court found that the Fourth Amendment right of people “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” includes the expectation that their cellphones will not be searched without a warrant.

The decision, which reverses a Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling, reaffirmed rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that, while seizing a cell phone without a warrant is not a Fourth Amendment violation, searching the device is a violation.

Specifically, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted, powering on the cell phone without a warrant was “akin to opening the door to a home. It permitted police to obtain and review a host of information on the cell phone, including viewing its wallpaper, reviewing incoming text messages and calls, and accessing all of the data contained in the phone.”

The Court also stated that, “The act of navigating the menus of a cell phone to obtain the phone’s number is unquestionably a search that required a warrant.” Such evidence obtained through that warrantless search would be subject to suppression, the ruling stated.


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