As you might suspect, the answer to this question is complex and truly depends on the situation at hand. Normally the question of whether a police officer is within bounds to request looking at your cell phone comes up after a search has already happened. Pursuing this route may be one avenue to determining whether the search was legal and whether evidence obtained from it is admissible in court. This is something you should discuss directly with your Mesa criminal defense attorney.

Do the Police Have to Have a Warrant?

A cell phone is considered to be the same as other items that may be in your pocket, meaning that the police would need to have a warrant to conduct a search to find it. There are situations, however, where this is not necessary because the authorities have an exception to that warrant.

Some of the most common exceptions to warrants include:

  • Instances where you gave your consent to be searched
  • The search happening on public school property
  • A search conducted after an arrest
  • The item in question was visible in an automobile (since cars have reduced privacy)
  • The item in question being in plain view of the officer
  • Police conducting a search for the suspect during which they believe he or she may destroy evidence
  • Situations involving a stop and frisk

Stop and frisk encounters involve circumstances where the police have reasonable suspicion that the individual is committing, has committed, or will commit a criminal act. If the police suspect that the person is armed and dangerous, they are also within their bounds to frisk the individual in question.  There are also state rules that can serve as the basis for exceptions to warrants, and to learn more about specifics you need to consult with your Mesa criminal defense lawyer. Your attorney can help you determine whether the police had a legal exception to the warrant requirement when your phone was searched.

What If I Was Not Present During the Cell Phone Search?

There are other legal questions raised by situations in which you may not physically be holding or near your phone. If the cell phone is lost and is turned into the police, they do have the right to look at what is on the phone in order to determine the rightful owner of the property. If the phone is stolen, it could also be logged as evidence linked to a crime. If evidence about who stole the phone could be on the device itself, police may look at the contents. If another person using your phone is stopped for an offense, the device could also be considered evidence that other person’s case.

With cell phones being a relatively recent invention, court interpretations of the right to search is subject to court interpretation. The law does evolve around this issue, which is why it is important to hire a knowledgeable Mesa criminal defense attorney who can explain the most relevant interpretations for you.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.