In January 2011 the California Supreme Court, affirming a decision of the Court of Appeals, ruled that a warrantless search by police of “the text message folder on an arrested person’s phone was valid as incident to a lawful custodial arrest.” The case (People v. Diaz) involves a man, Gregory Diaz, who in 2007 was arrested for selling the drug Ecstasy to an undercover informant. Upon his arrest his cell phone was seized and put into evidence. After Diaz was interviewed in custody, Senior Deputy Sheriff Victor Fazio looked through Diaz’s cell phone text messages and found a message which read “6 4 80” which Fazio interpreted to mean six Ecstasy pills for eighty dollars. Fazio showed the message to Diaz who then confessed to participating in the Ecstasy sale.
In court Diaz pleaded not guilty and moved to have the information gathered from the search of his cell phone suppressed, claiming that the search violated his Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable search and seizure.” The trial court denied Diaz’s motion, holding that the search was incident to a lawful arrest. The California Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
This issue arouses strongly-held concerns regarding privacy rights and the power of the government to conduct searches of a person’s property even during a lawful arrest. Diaz argued that the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights because cell phones “contain quantities of personal data unrivaled by any conventional item of evidence traditionally considered to be immediately associated with the person of the arrestee, such as an article of clothing, a wallet, or a crumpled cigarette box found in an arrestee’s pocket, and therefore implicate heightened privacy concerns.”
The dissent in the Diaz case highlights legitimate concerns about privacy. In Supreme Court Justice Moreno’s dissenting opinion, he expressed concern with the opinion of the majority, stating that their decision “goes much further, apparently allowing police carte blanche, with no showing of exigency, to rummage at leisure through the wealth of personal and business information that can be carried on a mobile phone or handheld computer merely because the device was taken from an arrestee’s person. The majority thus sanctions a highly intrusive and unjustified type of search, one meeting neither the warrant requirement nor the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
If you are in need of criminal defense lawyer in California, please contact the Fresno based law firm of Hammerschmidt Broughton Law Corporation. Our attorneys can be reached at (559) 772-4614. We are also on the Web at www.hbcriminaldefense.com.