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When Can the Police Unlock Your Phone?

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From making phone calls and texting to using social media and staying up with current events, our cellphones have become an important part of our daily lives. However, if you are arrested for a criminal offense, the police may be able to unlock your phone without asking you to do so.

Our cellphones contain a significant amount of information, such as who we talk to, where we are, and what types of business we conduct. Rather than force a person to unlock his/her phone, they now have decryption technology that can unlock it, as well as laptops and tablets.

Although your Fourth Amendment right prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, law enforcement officials can gain access to your phone’s contents in the following ways:

  • Consent – If the police ask you if they can unlock your phone and you say “yes,” they will. If you are absent when the police come to your home, your friends and roommates can also provide legal consent to officers in order to access your phone.
  • Warrant – The police must convince a judge that your cellphone contains evidence of a crime in order to obtain a warrant, which enables police to seize your phone and look through its contents.
  • Probable cause – If police establish probable cause in order to conduct a search and they find your phone during the search; they may seize it.
  • Arrest – Getting arrested will result in a search to ensure officer safety. However, they will seize any sort of potential evidence on your person, including your phone.
  • Emergency situations – If an officer establishes probable cause because he/she thinks your phone contains evidence of an alleged crime or that you will attempt to erase the contents of your phone, they may seize your phone without your consent or a warrant.

Remember, your Fifth Amendment right protects you against self-incrimination. This means the police cannot force you to unlock your phone, although refusing to do so may result in being charged with contempt. Again, law enforcement officials may have the decryption technology to do so without your consent.

If you have been arrested in Ohio and you believe the police violated your constitutional rights, contact Patituce & Associates today at (440) 471-7784 for a free consultation.