Imagine you are driving, and the police pull you over. The officer asks to see your cell phone or takes it during an arrest. But can they search your phone without a warrant? The short answer is no.
The longer answer is that it can happen due to mistakes and certain circumstances we discuss below.
Consenting to a search
One of the easiest ways police can search a phone without a warrant is by simply getting you to consent. They might come right out and ask, or they could enlist tactics to get you to hand your phone over.
They might say, “You don’t mind if I take a look at your phone, right?” or “You don’t have to worry if you have nothing to hide.”
But no matter what they say, you have the right to tell them that you do not consent to a search of your phone.
That said, consenting to a search could be involuntary in some cases, like if an officer coerces or threatens you to get it. Under these circumstances, the courts could set aside any evidence police recovered during the search. Similarly, if the police claim they have a warrant but do not, the search could be illegal.
Exceptions and exigent circumstances
While Missouri police generally cannot search a phone without a warrant, there are exceptions and special circumstances that allow them to do so. Per state and federal laws, police may be able to search a phone without a warrant in emergencies, including those when urgent action is needed and securing a warrant in time is impractical.
Police may also search a phone if they have a legitimate belief that the phone contains evidence of a crime and want to prevent someone from destroying it.
It is not unusual to say or do something because you are scared or don’t want to make a bad situation worse by arguing with the police. Should police confiscate, access or otherwise retain information from your phone, talking to an attorney can help you determine whether a search was a violation of your rights.