The Richmond Register


June 27, 2014

Local police usually get warrants before searching cell phones

RICHMOND — A Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that prohibits police from searching a cell phone without getting a warrant won’t change the way Richmond and Berea police conduct investigations.

Both municipal police departments were already obtaining warrants when they can’t get permission to search cell phones, officials said.

Assistant Richmond Police Chief Bob Mott said his department for years has been getting warrants to search phones. Sgt. Jake Reed, Berea Police spokesperson, said the same thing.

“Just because you’re arrested doesn’t mean we have the right to just go through your phone,” Mott said.

RPD’s second in command said getting a warrant  is a bit more time consuming, but it’s not a deal breaker for investigators. Richmond police often search phones during investigations, usually with consent from the owner.

If officers can’t get consent, they ask a local judge to sign a search warrant.

Phones are important during a police investigation, Mott said, because that’s where people often keep photos, videos, texts and other information useful to police.

“We’re not doing our due diligence if we don’t go through phones to find more evidence,” he said.

In the case that led to the Supreme Court ruling, a California man was arrested during a traffic stop. When police searched his phone without consent, they found several photos and videos of gang activity, and the evidence was used against him.

But Mott said it is uncommon for a defendant to face additional charges because of evidence obtained from a cell-phone search, but it can happen.

Cell phones that police search don’t always belong to defendants, Mott added. Those who report crimes may give officers consent to search their phones to see evidence, often a text from someone who has threatened them.

The ruling “really won’t effect (Berea Police) at all,” Reed said. “I was surprised that this was even an issue. We’ve been doing it this way for years, just to cover all our bases.”

He said BPD officers always ask for consent first, but if they don’t get it, they pursue a search warrant.

Drug arrests and child pornography cases most often involve evidence from cell phones, Reed said.

In drug cases, text messages on a suspect’s phone may reveal “so much,” he said. Often, texts will help police trace the source of illegal drugs.

Photos of drugs to be exchanged, or even weapons, may be photographed with a phone, Reed said.

In child pornography cases, he said a phone may contain photos or text messages that have been sent to minors.

The evidence may not lead to additional charges, but it can provides a lot of “very valuable information,” Reed said.

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