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Is the stuff on your cell phone protected from police review? ...Maybe.


In Tennessee, citizens have two levels of protection from government agencies looking at our cell phones: the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the 4th Amendment in Riley v. California issued June 25, 2014 and the Tennessee state statue governing search warrants which went into effect July 1, 2014. 

In the Riley case, the Supreme Court ruled that police could not examine the call logs, messaging logs or any other data on a suspect's cell phone without first obtaining a search warrant by appearing in front of a judge. Chief Justice Roberts wrote: "Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life'. The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought." Riley v. California 573 U.S. __ (slip op. at 28). Similarly, a Tennessee statue became effective July 1, 2014 which prohibits the police from searching an individual's cell phone without a search warrant.

However, it is vital for people to realize that police may potentially overcome these protections in certain scenarios. For example, if the individual consents to the police review the warrant requirement may be waived. Say an officer asks a person 'May I look at your phone?' and the person responds 'Yes' (or even 'I don't care') then the officer could then be freed of the warrant requirement and whatever evidence was recovered from the cell phone could be used against that person.

While Riley - along with the Tennessee statute change - is an important Fourth Amendment ruling with a variety of implications for defendants charged with crime where cell phone data is potential evidence there are still significant legal issues best addressed by a competent and experienced criminal defense attorney.

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