CA Supreme Court Allows Search of Cell Phones Without a Warrant

In a stunning decision, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a police officer can search the contents of a cell phone during an arrest and without a warrant. The Court held that during an arrest the individual loses his or her privacy rights for all possessions they are carrying. The decision allows the police to seize anything a person may be carrying and to examine the contents of those items.  The justices who dissented to this decision stated that extending the search rights of the police to cell phones constitutes an invasion of that person’s privacy.  Cell phones contain personal and business information, these justices contend, that are private and should not be subject to review by the police without the just cause requirements that are necessary to obtain a search warrant.  The 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, according to Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, January 4, 2011 (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/03/BA5N1H3G12.DTL ). The Ohio Supreme Court reached the opposite conclusion in a 2009 ruling, holding that the police did not have the right to search the contents of an arrestee’s possessions (such as a cell phone) without obtaining a warrant first.  Typically, when the highest courts of multiple states reach differing conclusions to the same issue, the U.S. Supreme Court will accept a case to make the final decision on the matter.  What is your opinion on this issue?

In a business setting, it has long been decided that employees cannot have an expectation of privacy of the contents of any company owned computer, cell phone or pager.  An employer has the right to search the contents of any and all company owned property at any time.  I recommend that my employer – clients have employment policies with their employees that specifically state that right, thereby putting the employees on notice of the employer’s rights.  Pornography on the computer, illegal acts, and other uses that violate the law or company policy may, and should, be grounds for termination of an employee.  In addition, the contents of a company owned computer, cell phone or pager may be evidence that is used against an employee in an employee theft or sexual harassment case.

Posted In: Employment Law
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