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Police Cell Phone Searches and Your Smartphone: Know Your Rights

These days, many people store personal and sensitive information on their cell phones. To protect your privacy, you might have a passcode or similar security measures in place on your smartphone. But if you’re being questioned or searched by police, are you required to provide your cell phone’s passcode and allow officers to search your phone?

Arizona law says no, in most cases.

What Does Arizona Law Say About Cell Phone Searches?

The precedent for this was set forth in Arizona State v. Peoples, the opinion of which was issued by a judge in September of 2016. Ultimately, the opinion in this case found that Arizona recognizes a “legitimate expectation of privacy” when it comes to cell phones. In fact, this case has set the precedent for privacy even in situations where a phone is left unlocked.

As a result, in State v. Peoples, the court found that incriminating evidence unlawfully obtained by a police officer from the suspect’s phone would not be admissible in court.

Instead, officers in Arizona are required to obtain a search warrant for a person’s cell phone before searching, unless the person has otherwise provided consent to search.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

So, what does this mean for you if you’re being questioned by police? It means that, at least in the state of Arizona, you are not legally required to unlock your phone and allow officers to search its contents. Even if you don’t have a passcode on your phone, officers may not seize your phone and search it without your permission.

It is perfectly within your legal rights to deny an officer consent to search your property. However, if an officer has reasonable suspicion, he or she may still obtain a search warrant from a judge. With a search warrant, your property may be legally searched. However, it’s always a good idea to ask officers for proof of a search warrant before turning over any of your property.

When to Speak With a Lawyer

While most police officers are up-to-date on Arizona law and general constitutional laws protecting you from unreasonable search and seizure, the reality is that some officers do abuse their power (knowingly or unknowingly). If incriminating evidence was obtained against you from your cell phone without your consent or without a search warrant, you may be entitled to have this evidence suppressed in court.

Your best course of action is to speak with a lawyer who is well-versed in Arizona search and seizure law. Our team is here to help; contact us today to schedule your free consultation and speak with our legal team about your case.