Washington, D.C. - Police may not generally search the cell phones of criminal suspects without a search warrant, according to the Supreme Court's unanimous Wednesday ruling.
In most cases in which there is "probable cause" that a crime has been committed, phone searches have been permitted along with searches of briefcases, wallets, and vehicles. However, the court ruled a phone, in consideration of the personal information it may contain, should be exempt.
"Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life.' The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.
"The Obama administration and California defend searches of cell phones and believe cell phones should be as liable to police search as anything else found on a suspect's person.
The ruling did include, however, that police remain free to examine a phone to ensure it cannot be used as a weapon; for example, police can check a phone for a razor concealed in the case.
The ruling combined two cases in which information found in cell phones contributed to suspect convictions.