Can The Police Search My Phone If I Get Arrested?

When you’re arrested in Missouri, the police officer has the legal right to perform a pat-down to check if there are any illegal substances or weapons on your person to make sure that both you and the police officer are safe. Additionally, during a pat-down, the officer has the right to remove any type of information like receipts, papers, opened letters, etc., and use these items as evidence. And, since many of us carry a cellphone on our person at all times, you may be thinking that the officer can seize and search your cellphone, however, in most arrests that’s just not legal.

Continue reading to learn more about Missouri’s laws when it comes to cell phones, including the Missouri tracking law as well as what type of information on your cell phone can get you into trouble.  

Phones Like Homes: Warrants Required

man holding hand in stop

Since The U.S. Supreme Court sets the foundational rules for the 4th Amendment, the amendment deals with search and seizure laws and citizens’ right to privacy, it took a few years and a few cases in the United States for the Supreme Court to come to the current decision regarding the search and seizure of cell phones. 

Essentially, the current laws in the U.S. allow an officer to search a person and any “containers” that are on or immediately around them. However, since it was decided that a cellphone is not your typical container, it doesn’t fall under this law. 

Instead, in the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision concerning search and seizure of cell phones, they determined that cellphones are more like homes than just a “container”, meaning that a law enforcement officer must have a search warrant in order to look through your phone. In fact, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that a contemporary cellphone contains more private, sensitive information than a house. So during an arrest, if an officer asks to look at your phone without a warrant you have the right to say NO.

Understanding The Third Party Doctrine 

Unfortunately, while it is illegal for a police officer to search your cellphone without your permission or a warrant, there are still some ways that they can access information from your cell phone that goes through third parties, through the Third Party Doctrine. 

To put it plainly, when you use your cellphone there are certain things you are agreeing to just by texting, calling, or using third-party apps such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc. That’s why it’s important to read the fine print before downloading and using any type of app on your phone as well as your user agreement with the cell phone company you go through. An example of how the Third-Party Doctrine could be used would be, if you are being charged with a crime like domestic violence in Missouri, the police don’t need a warrant or your permission to see texts, phone call logs, Facebook posts as long as they go through these third parties to get the information. 

There are some limitations to this law, however. For example, if police officers want to use a third party to track your movements and location via your cell phone data, they must first get a warrant. Missouri has even passed a state-wide law where police officers must have a warrant to use devices called Stingrays, which mimic cell phone towers to pinpoint cell phones and other electronic devices in real-time. 

So there’s no need to worry that every time you open your cellphone your information will be used to incriminate you if you ever find yourself fighting a criminal case-as long as you only use your cell phone and the apps that come with it smartly. If you are ever unsure of where these limits are in regards to your arrest and privacy, contact your Springfield criminal defense attorney.

Call Missouri Legal Today

When you are arrested, the police will look for any type of information that they can use to incriminate you. One way that they can do this is with your cell phone. Information found in your cell phone, like call logs, text messages, pictures, search history, GPS, can all be used against you if you are being charged with a crime. So be smart and know your rights. The police do not have the authority to go through your cell phone without a warrant or your permission, they also cannot bully you into letting them do so. Now, if you are arrested, they may be able to take your phone as evidence and hold onto it once they have the warrant. That is why time is of the essence if a law enforcement agency has your cell phone. Don’t hesitate to call Missouri Legal to talk with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys in Springfield to see what your next best steps should be. You have a right to your privacy, and we will fight aggressively for you to make sure that it is upheld.