The Minnesota Court of Appeals finds that we do have an expectation of privacy for the contents of our cell phones. This requires law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before looking at our cell phone’s contents.
Click here to read the case in its entirety.
State v Barajas (Minnesota Court of Appeals, 07-23-2012, A11-0983, Clay Co)
The Police went to a vacant apartment and found Defendant trespassing on the property. After search, Police found methamphetamine in the apartment, a cell phone on the kitchen counter and two cell phones on the defendant’s person. Police took the cell phones and looked at the photographs on the cell phone without first obtaining a search warrant. After finding the photographs, law enforcement then decided to seek a signed consent to search, a waiver of the search warrant requirement.
At the trial, the prosecution was allowed to introduce photographs taken from the cell phones. The photographs showed defendant with a lot of money. Defendant was convicted and sent to prison for First Degree possession with intent to sell.
Defendant appealed the decision. The Court of Appeals decided that Defendant has an expectation of privacy in the contents of the phone. This does not end the analysis as to whether a search warrant is required. The Court then considers whether that expectation of privacy is recognized as reasonable by society. The Court analyzes that while the Defendant did not have an expectation of privacy as to himself since he was a trespasser, he still had an expectation of privacy in the concealed contents of the phone. In other words, the discovery of the telephones does not need a search warrant, but in order to look at the telephone’s contents, a warrant is required. The Court says a cell phone that conceals its contents is consistent with constitutionally protected containers. Therefore, the police were required to get a search warrant to get the photographs.
The Court then discussed the Consent to search element. Consent to search is an exception to the warrant requirement. The State argued and the trial court found that the unlawful search of the telephone without a warrant was cured by the consent the Defendant signed. The Appellate court disagreed with the trial court and found that the consent was not freely and voluntarily given in these circumstances.
This is all great news for making the sure the government does not invade our privacy without their actions being reviewed and not allowing the government to violate our 4th amendment Rights. However, it was not enough for Defendant Barajas to have his conviction overturned, as the Court found there was enough other evidence to convict him.