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Defendants' rights win at the Supreme Court

Although the rule itself seems fairly simple on its face, the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure is hardly without its loopholes. The actual language of the amendment says that law enforcement needs a warrant to search through an individual's possessions or home, but there have been a number of exceptions carved out of this right. But, according to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, defendants' rights to privacy will be better protected.

The decision, which was made unanimously, held that police must have a warrant before they search a person's cellphone data. Of course, police can search the physical phone and case for anything that could pose a safety risk, but they cannot access any of the information or data on the phone without a warrant.

This could potentially apply to laptop computers and tablets, too.

In the opinion, Chief Justice Roberts said that our phones are such an integrated part of our lives that they deserve protection from searches.

It still remains to be seen how this new rule will be incorporated into the Chicago Police Department's protocols. Of course, it will likely mean more trips to a judge's chamber before officers can go through an individual's private information. At the same time, however, the chief justice noted that there may be exigent circumstances in which a warrant would not be necessary. Without a clear definition of what those circumstances could be, Chicago police may choose to stretch the limit of their searching capabilities.

Source: The New York Times, "Major Ruling Shields Privacy of Cellphones," Adam Liptak, June 25, 2014

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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