Changes to the Way Search Warrants for Cell Phone Content Must be Obtained
A new decision released by the Georgia Supreme Court changes the way police must obtain warrants if they want to search the contents of your cell phone. In State v. Wilson, released on February 21, the Court tightened the reigns on what officers must include in their search warrants.
In Wilson, a defendant was on trial for murder. The defendant’s lawyer argued that the search of his cell phone was illegal because it did not specify what police were looking for and sought to have any evidence recovered from his phone kept out of his trial. The trial court agreed with the defendant’s attorney and said that “the search warrant was overly broad and authorized a general search of [the defendant’s] personal effects without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment and O.C.G.A § 17-5-21”. The judge ruled that evidence found in defendant’s phone could not be used in trial.
The State appealed the trial court’s decision, but the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the trial court. The Supreme Court reminded us that the Fourth Amendment requires that search warrants list the particular items sought in order to prevent “general, exploratory rummaging in a person’s belongings”. Because the search warrant in Wilson just listed “contents of phone” and didn’t mention that it was limited to evidence pertaining to the commission of a certain crime, it was overbroad and illegal, and the search was unconstitutional.
This means that search warrants for the contents of phones must contains a particular description of the things to be seized (i.e. text messages or pictures in a child molestation case, or internet search history in a murder case). If you have been charged with a crime in Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Clayton, Rockdale, or any metro county, and the police searched your phone, it is important to have a lawyer review the search warrant and see if it was properly executed. The lawyers at W. Scott Smith specialize in spotting issues like this and standing up to the State to protect our clients’ constitutional rights. Call our office at 404-581-0999 today for a free consultation.