Can the Police Force You to Turn Over Your Phone and Online Records?

In many cases in which the police are investigating a person for a crime, they try to gather as much evidence implying the individual’s guilt as possible. The police must abide by the confines of the law, however, and cannot overstep their boundaries, or it will constitute a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. For example, people generally have the right to deny the police access to their phone and online records, and if the police ask a person to turn over their electronic devices without a warrant, it may constitute an unreasonable search and seizure. If you were investigated for a criminal offense and asked to produce your phone, it is important to know how to protect your rights, and you should speak to a trusted Tampa criminal defense lawyer about your options.

Can the Police Force You to Turn Over Your Phone and Online Records?

Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 12 of the Constitution of the State of Florida, people have the right to be free from searches and seizures that are unreasonable. The courts have interpreted these provisions to mean, in part, that the police generally cannot conduct a search or take someone’s property without a warrant. In other words, they typically are not permitted to force people to hand over their phones or allow the police to search their computer records unless the police have a valid warrant.

Further, under Florida law, the police must demonstrate probable cause to obtain a warrant to conduct a search. This means that they must show that when presented with the information in the officer’s possession, a reasonable person would determine that a crime has been committed and that the individual the warrant pertains to committed the offense. Put another way, a police officer must offer factual evidence indicating he or she harbors a rational belief the defendant broke the law.

How to Protect Your Rights

If the police asked you to turn over your phone or online records without a warrant, you have the right to say no. It is prudent in such instances to seek the assistance of a lawyer, to help you understand and protect your rights. Even if the police present you with a warrant, it is advisable to retain an attorney, as there may be grounds for arguing the warrant is unlawful. Further, even if the police have a warrant, they cannot exceed the scope of the warrant in conducting their search. In other words, if the warrant states the police can search a person’s vehicle, an officer cannot use that as a basis to compel the production of a phone.

Speak to a Trusted Criminal Defense Attorney in Tampa

The police generally need a warrant to access a person’s property or records, and if they conduct a search without a warrant, it may constitute grounds for arguing that the search is unlawful and any evidence obtained from it should be precluded. If you are being investigated for a crime, it is important to understand your rights during the criminal process, and you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a trusted Tampa criminal defense attorney who can advise you of your potential defenses and help you to seek the best outcome possible in your case. You can contact Mr. Hanlon via the form online or at 813-228-7095 to set up a conference.