Texas Appeals Court Rules That Law Enforcement Officials Do Need A Warrant To Search An Arrested Person’s Cell Phone After They’ve Been Jailed

Texas Appeals Court Rules That Law Enforcement Officials Do Need A Warrant To Search An Arrested Person's Cell Phone After They've Been JailedThe State Of Texas V. Anthony Granville, No. PD-1095-12 (PDF) is a pro privacy decision for Texas citizens. The decision is given by a bench of 8 judges out of whom 7 have been part of the majority judgment while 1 has delivered a dissenting judgment. Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that phone users have legitimate expectation of privacy.

These decisions has come at a very crucial time when the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted a Writ of Certiorari in Riley David L v State Of California Order List 571 US Dated Friday January 17 2014 (PDF) case. The Supreme Court would very soon decide whether evidence admitted at petitioner’s trial was obtained in a search of petitioner’s cell phone that violated petitioner’s Fourth Amendment rights.

This Anthony Granville’s case raises the issue of whether a person retains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the contents of his cell phone when that phone is being temporarily stored in a jail property room. The trial judge granted Anthony Granville’s motion to suppress, concludin1g that the high-school student did not lose his legitimate expectation of privacy in his cell phone simply because it was being stored in the jail property room after he had been arrested for a Class C misdemeanor. The court of appeals affirmed that ruling.

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas granted the SPA’s petition for discretionary review, but it rejected the argument that a modern-day cell phone is like a pair of pants or a bag of groceries, for which a person loses all privacy protection once it is checked into a jail property room. It affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

In effect it means that law enforcement officials of Texas do need a warrant to search an arrested person’s cell phone after he/she has been jailed. The ruling did not decide whether it is legal or not for police to search a suspect’s phone at the time of arrest. The same is subject matter of the proposed decision by U.S. Supreme Curt in the Riley David’s case. However, the Texas ruling has established that a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy over the contents of his/her cell phone while the phone is being stored in the jail property room.

The majority judgement observed that the Fourth Amendment states that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.” The term “papers and effects” obviously carried a different connotation in the late eighteenth century than it does today. No longer are they stored only in desks, cabinets, satchels, and folders. Our most private information is now frequently stored in electronic devices such as computers, laptops, iPads, and cell phones, or in “the cloud” and accessible by those electronic devices. But the “central concern underlying the Fourth Amendment” has remained the same throughout the centuries; it is “the concern about giving police officers unbridled discretion to rummage at will among a person’s private effects.” This is a case about rummaging through a citizen’s electronic private effects – a cell phone – without a warrant.