Warrantless Massachusetts Cell Phone Search Case to be Decided by SJC

The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy has succeeded in convincing the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts for Suffolk County to allow an interlocutory appeal to review the denial of a motion to suppress evidence seized from a defendant through an unlawful and warrantless search of a cell phone. The case originated from the Boston Municipal Court, East Boston Division. The SJC Docket No. is SJ-2012-0144.

At issue is whether the police acted improperly by searching the defendant’s cellular telephone without a search warrant after seizing it pursuant to a lawful arrest while the defendant was in custody back at the police station. Although the lower court denied the motion to suppress of the alleged cell phone evidence that the police said tied the defendant to the crime, in his decision, the judge at the motion hearing recognized that neither the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts nor the Massachusetts Appeals Court have addressed the issue of a warrantless search of a cell phone after the defendant is in custody.

Unfortunately, there is conflicting case law among the federal circuits. Attorney Patrick Murphy is urging the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to uphold the protections of the Fourth Amendment and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights to require that the police show deference to the warrant requirement before such a search should take place.

Attorney Murphy argued that the Court should take the side of the minority with respect to the federal case decisions and hold that these court opinions uphold the protections of the Fourth Amendment and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and show deference to the warrant requirement. When an officer arrests someone who has a cell phone in their possession, there may very well be reason to suspect that the phone contains valuable information, particularly in drug-related arrests. The call logs and address books could help link a defendant to a particular drug transaction and could provide the identities of other persons involved in the illegal activity; however, these are exactly the types of situations where probable cause could be used to obtain a warrant.

The reality is that most information stored on a cell phone will remain there long enough for a warrant to be secured and that numbers “lost” from recent call lists are readily obtainable from the service provider. Cell phones are outside the ambit of the search incident to arrest exception’s reach because of their capacity for storing vast quantities of intimately personal data. If courts continue to allow the unfettered exploration of this personal data, then courts are permitting the government to execute an unwarranted search of the cell phone user’s life and habits. This intrusion cannot reasonably be justified by the rationales of officer safety and evidence preservation; therefore, a simple seizure of the cell phone must suffice until a warrant can be procured.

The prosecutor agreed with Attorney Murphy that allowing the defendant’s appeal to go forward would facilitate the administration of justice on an issue that is extremely important and one that is clearly capable of repetition in the courts.

If you or someone you know has been stopped by the police and subjected to an unlawful search or seizure of your person or property resulting in criminal charges, contact the Law Office Of Patrick J. Murphy today for a free and confidential discussion of your case. Attorney Murphy has the expertise and experience to handle your criminal law matter and the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy will fight for your rights all the way up to the highest court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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