7th Circuit ponders search of cell phone

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which likened modern cell phones to computers, had to decide whether police could search a man’s phone for the phone’s number without a search warrant.

In United States of America v. Abel Flores-Lopez, No. 10-3803, police suspected Abel Flores-Lopez supplied drugs to dealer Alberto Santana-Cabrera, who then unknowingly sold them to a police informant. Police tracked down Flores-Lopez and Santana-Cabrera and arrested them. Police seized a cell phone on Flores-Lopez and two from the truck he was in. Flores-Lopez only admitted to owning the one found on him. Police searched that phone at the scene of the arrest to obtain Flores-Lopez’s phone number. That number was used to produce three months of the phone’s call history, which was introduced into evidence.

Flores-Lopez objected to the admittance, but that was overruled. He argued that the search was unreasonable because police didn’t have a warrant, so the evidence obtained from the phone company shouldn’t be admitted.

Judge Richard Posner examined the issue by comparing modern cell phones to computers and whether just looking for a phone’s number – and nothing more – is allowed without a warrant. Cell phones are containers of data, much like a diary, but also go beyond diaries because they contain far more personal and private information and data, he wrote.

“It’s not even clear that we need a rule of law specific to cell phones or other computers. If police are entitled to open a pocket diary to copy the owner’s address, they should be entitled to turn on a cell phone to learn its number,” Posner wrote.

He also looked at the urgency issue – do police need to obtain the cell phone’s number right away? There is the possibility of an arrestee erasing all the data from his phone, either on scene or remotely.

In the end, the appellate court decided the invasion of privacy by looking for just a cell phone number of a phone was slight. It could be obtained by doing a quick search on the phone and without seeing other data.



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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.