Cell phone ruling could stall cases

The Supreme Court rules on cell phone searches
FILE - This April 29, 2014 file photo shows a Supreme Court visitor using his cellphone to take a photo of the court in Washington. A unanimous Supreme Court says police may not generally search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants. The justices say cellphones are powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest. (AP Photo, File)

NEW CASTLE, Pa. (WKBN) – Prosecutors nationwide are considering the effect of potentially thousands of pending court cases after the Supreme Court’s ruling that restricts police searches of cellphones.

The ruling prohibits law enforcement from searching an arrestee’s cellphone without a warrant unless a person’s safety or life may be in danger.

A cellphone search without a warrant has been illegal in Ohio since 2009, but that is not the case in Pennsylvania.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Pennsylvania is going to have immediate impact. In Ohio, the impact will not be as great because the Ohio Supreme Court has already decided this issue,” said WKBN First News Legal Analyst Matt Mangino. “Cell phones are certainly mini computers. They have information about every aspect of our lives.”

The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment requires police generally to have a judge sign a warrant that’s based on “probable cause,” or evidence that a crime has been committed. But cellphones have been treated like any other item in an arrestee’s possession, meaning they could be examined to ensure the officer’s safety and prevent the destruction of evidence.

The Supreme Court’s decision examined two cases that arose after arrests in San Diego and Boston. In San Diego, police found indications of gang membership when they looked through a defendant’s smartphone, and prosecutors used video and photographs from the phone to persuade a jury to convict him of attempted murder and other charges. In Boston, police used the call log on an arrested man’s flip phone to lead them to his home, where they found drugs, a gun and ammunition.

Thousands of pending court cases could be altered or dropped because of what would now be considered illegally obtained evidence as a result of the decision. Whether that’ll happen is unclear, and prosecutors are working to limit the case’s retroactive impact.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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