The Ohio Supreme Court Says Police Can’t Search Your Cell Phone

Ohio Cell Phone Search Law

Attorneys in our Columbus law firm often see criminal cases where Columbus and Franklin County detectives snoop through a suspect’s cell phone without probable cause, let alone a search warrant, looking for evidence they can use in court, or for leads they can follow-up on in an ongoing criminal investigation. They call it “fishing.” In 2009, in State v. Smith, 124 Ohio St.3d 163, 2009-Ohio-6426, the Ohio Supreme Court sent a strong message to the police, holding: “(T)he warrantless search of data within a cell phone seized incident to lawful arrest is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment….” The result of that decision was that if an Ohio law enforcement officer searches through a suspect’s cell phone without a warrant, then at trial the prosecutor can’t use any information obtained from it.

In the Smith case, law enforcement used information obtained from the cell phone to convict Smith of possession and trafficking in cocaine. As the result of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision, the evidence was suppressed, and Smith was granted a new trial.

Now, however, the United States Supreme Court has decided to weigh in. Last Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases where judges came to different conclusions about how much privacy our phones deserve. The two cases accepted by the U. S. Supreme Court are cases where suspects were convicted of the illegal possession of drugs and firearms based on evidence obtained from warrantless searches of their cell phones. The U. S. Supreme Court will now have the final word about whether police can make warrantless searches of cell phones after an otherwise legal arrest.

If you, a relative, or close friend has been charges with the illegal possession of firearms, marijuana, cocaine or other drugs, please feel free to contact one of our criminal defense attorneys in Columbus, Ohio for a free initial consultation.