Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

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Law School Case Brief

State v. Smith - 2009-Ohio-6426, 124 Ohio St. 3d 163, 920 N.E.2d 949

Rule:

Because a cell phone is not a closed container, and because an individual has a privacy interest in the contents of a cell phone that goes beyond the privacy interest in an address book or pager, an officer may not conduct a search of a cell phone's contents incident to a lawful arrest without first obtaining a warrant.

Facts:

Defendant sought review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals for Greene County (Ohio), which affirmed a trial court's decision denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence retrieved from defendant's cell phone without a warrant or defendant's consent. Defendant contended that the trial court should have suppressed the evidence on the ground that U.S. Const. amend. IV prohibited the search of the phone's contents.

A woman in the hospital because of a drug overdose was questioned by police. She agreed to call her drug dealer, whom she identified as defendant, to arrange for the purchase of crack cocaine at her residence. Defendant was arrested at the woman's residence that evening. During the arrest, the police searched defendant and found a cell phone on his person. At some point police searched the phone and discovered that the call records and phone numbers confirmed that defendant's cell phone had been used to speak with the woman. This evidence was introduced during defendant's trial. 

Issue:

Should the evidence of the call numbers and records from defendant's cell phone be suppressed?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that the evidence should have been suppressed. Because a cell phone was not a closed container and because an individual had a privacy interest in the contents of a cell phone that went beyond the privacy interest in an address book or pager, an officer could not conduct a search of a cell phone's contents incident to a lawful arrest without first obtaining a warrant. The search of the phone's contents was not necessary to ensure officer safety, and there was no evidence that the information police were searching for was subject to imminent destruction.

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