By Linda Sharp, ESQ., MBA
As the burgeoning world of electronic data blurs the line between public and private, more cases like that of People v. Taylor, Colo. Court of Appeals, 5th Div. No. 09CA2681 (June 7th, 2012) will surface. The issue with this case revolves around the legality of searching a cell phone without a warrant and if this is in breach of the rights accorded by the 4th Amendment (1).
In this case, undercover police officers suspected that the defendant (Taylor) was dealing drugs and, subsequently, arrested him on these charges. During the search of the defendant, they seized his cell phone and reviewed his call logs without a warrant. In the course of this review, they found incriminating evidence that showed that the defendant was, in fact, dealing drugs.
Currently, the defendant is trying to get this evidence dismissed in court by arguing that reviewing his call logs without a warrant is in violation of his 4th Amendment rights. The police are counter-arguing that this is well within the law due to the “search incident to arrest” exception to the law requiring a warrant prior to search. This exception states that police have the right to search any object(s) either in possession or within reach of the arrested person(s). Currently, there is not a Supreme Court ruling revolving around the applicability of this exception to cell phones. The ruling in the lower circuit courts have been split. Various courts have ruled in favor of this exception vis-à-vis cell phones (e.g. 4th and 5th US Circuit Courts) while others have said cell phones are off limits (e.g. Ohio Supreme Court).
As of right now, the judge in this case has ruled that reviewing the call logs of the defendant was well within the realm of the “search incident to arrest” exception of the warrant requirement. The court based this off of the fact that the search was merely limited to the cell phone’s call logs and nothing else. If the evidence in question was found in text messages or some other form of data within the phone, this ruling may have been completely different.
The importance of this case on the corporate world of eDiscovery revolves around the 4th Amendment and electronic data. This case shows that the line between someone’s 4th Amendment rights and its applicability to eDiscovery is becoming ever-increasingly blurry as the courts attempt to deal with technology’s inundation into contemporary society.
1. The 4th Amendment of the US Constitution guards against unreasonable search and seizure. To read more, click here.