, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

June 26, 2014

Cell search

Court says warrant needed to search phones

PORT ARTHUR — In a step toward privacy protection, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police officers must obtain a warrant before searching the contents of a cell phone.

Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking for a unanimous court, said that cell phones — especially smartphones — are “powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest,” according to an Associated Press report.

“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience,” Roberts said in the AP report. “With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.”

Marcelo Molfino, Port Arthur PD Street Crimes Unit investigator, said that Wednesday’s ruling was not a surprise — because the Justices did not unearth anything new.

“This has always been the case,” Molfino said. “When we’re doing any criminal investigation, if we come across something vital for our prosecution, we want to get that evidence legally. We do it all the time.

“Let’s say we arrest a guy on a burglary, but we think he may be tied to a drive-by shooting or a robbery. We already have his phone, but if we search through it without a warrant — even if we’re right and he was involved in those other crimes — any evidence we find on that phone may not hold up in court.

“Instead, we type up a search warrant affidavit and bring it to a district judge to present our evidence and explain why we think he is connected. If the judge agrees that we have probable cause to suspect our burglar, he signs the search warrant and we are legally allowed to look through the phone.”

Molfino said that within the past two months, PAPD has searched 25-30 cell phones — either through a search warrant or through consent from the suspect.

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