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Law School Case Brief

State v. Granville - 423 S.W.3d 399 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014)

Rule:

A cell phone is not like a pair of pants or a shoe. Given modern technology and the incredible amount of personal information stored and accessible on a cell phone, a citizen does not lose his reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of his cell phone merely because that cell phone is being stored in a jail property room.

Facts:

Anthony Granville was arrested for causing a disturbance on the school bus. His cell phone was taken from him during the booking procedure and placed in the jail property room. Later that day, Officer Harrell, was told that, on the day before he was arrested, Granville had used his cell phone to take a photograph of another student urinating in the boys' bathroom. Officer Harrell, who was not involved in arresting Granville, then drove to the jail and retrieved the cell phone from the jail property room. He examined its contents without first getting a warrant. The officer turned on the phone, which had been turned off. He went through it until he found the photographfor which  he was looking, then took the phone to his office, and printed a copy of the photograph. Harrell kept the phone as evidence. MGranville was charged with the state-jail felony of Improper Photography.

Issue:

Was law enforcement allowed to activate and search the contents of an inventoried cellular phone that was immediately associated with defendant at the time of his lawful arrest?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Fourth Amendment states that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated. The term "papers and effects" obviously carried a different connotation in the late eighteenth century than it does today. No longer are they stored only in desks, cabinets, satchels, and folders. Most private information is now frequently stored in electronic devices such as computers, laptops, iPads, and cell phones, or in "the cloud" and accessible by those electronic devices. But the "central concern underlying the Fourth Amendment" has remained the same throughout the centuries; it is the concern about giving police officers unbridled discretion to rummage at will among a person's private effects.

This is a case about rummaging through a citizen's electronic private effects—a cell phone—without a warrant. Ownership or legal possession of the property searched is not the "be-all-end-all" in deciding whether a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy in it. But courts commonly find that a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy in the contents of his cell phone because of its "ability to store large amounts of private data," both in the cell phone itself and by accessing remote services. This data may involve the most intimate details of a person's individual life, including text messages, emails, banking, medical, or credit card information, pictures, and videos. A cell phone is unlike other containers as it can receive, store, and transmit an almost unlimited amount of private information. The potential for invasion of privacy, identity theft, or, at a minimum, public embarrassment is enormous.

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