Defense Attorney St. Louis: Can the Police Search Your Cell Phone Without Your Consent?


One of the questions that our clients often ask us is whether police officers in Missouri have the right to search a person’s cell phone without their consent. The short answer to the question is – no, they do not have the right to do so.

If a police officer searches your cell phone without asking your consent or despite your refusal to give consent, and if the search leads to an arrest, you should contact an experienced defense attorney in St. Louis to protect your rights.

Searching Cell Phones Without Consent – What Does the Law Say

In a landmark ruling (Riley v. California), the US Supreme Court stated that a police officer does not have the right to search a person’s cell phone while questioning them or making an arrest – unless the person in question consents to a search.

The court observed that a person’s cell phone might contain vast amounts of data pertaining to all aspects of their life and going through the contents of their cell phone is similar to searching every nook and corner of their home. Drawing this analogy, the court stated that a police officer can go through the contents of a person’s cell phone the same way they can search a person’s home – after getting a warrant.

Similarly, as any defense attorney St. Louis expert can tell you, Missouri law also grants you the right to digital privacy and prohibits law enforcement agencies from accessing your emails, text messages, and other data without your explicit consent or a warrant.

Back in 2014, the state’s constitution was amended in an effort to extend Fourth Amendment protections to digital communications and data. As a result, law enforcement agencies in Missouri do not have the right to search a person’s cell phone even after they make an arrest.

Exceptions to the Digital Privacy Law

Ask any defense attorney St. Louis expert and they will tell you that there is an exception to every law. The same rule applies here as well. While searching a person’s cell phone is generally prohibited by law, it is allowed under the following circumstances.

  • In an exigent situation – if the police believe that by accessing the data on your cell phone, they can prevent a crime which is imminent or find a dangerous suspect – they can search your cell phone without your consent and without getting a warrant.
  • If you are on parole or probation – depending on the terms of your parole or probation – the police might be able to search your cell phone without a warrant or your consent.

Except under the aforementioned circumstances, a police officer cannot access the data on your cell phone unless they have a warrant. Even if they manage to find incriminating data, your defense attorney in St. Louis can easily question the admissibility of the evidence and make sure the data obtained from your phone is not used to convict you.

Choose the Right Defense Attorney in St. Louis to Represent You

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime based on the data obtained from an illegal search of your cell phone, the criminal defense attorneys at Miller & Hine can fight to protect your rights. Call us today at (314) 413-2053 or contact us online for a free review of your case by one of our criminal defense attorneys.