Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cell Phone Search of Probationers?

A defendant who was on juvenile probation has no expectation of privacy in the contents of a cell phone, a court in California has apparently ruled.

According to news reports:

The phone was seized from Blay after he ran from police who cruised into his neighborhood in San Francisco. At the time, Blay was a person of interest in the murder of Tong Van Le four days earlier in Novato. Information derived from the phone apparently helped authorities build their murder case. In a pre-trial hearing Wednesday afternoon before Judge Terrence Boren, one of Blay's defense attorneys, Carl Gonser, said the confiscation of the phone violated Blay's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and that any information derived from it was inadmissible. The prosecution argued that because Blay was on juvenile probation, and thus subject to random searches, police had the right to take the phone and examine it. Boren agreed.

The Supreme Court has previously held that holding that a warrantless search of a probationer's home by a probation officer, conducted pursuant to a valid regulation, was reasonable. This has been extended sometimes to searches of computers. This general rule makes sense, since computer searches or internet monitoring of persons subject to continued court supervision have reduced expectations of privacy. However, in many circumstances the ability to search the contents of computers is a specific condition of probation related to the crime committed.

I suspect that courts will find a similar diminished expectation of privacy in cell phones.

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