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Do the Police Have a Right to Look at Your Phone?

Feb. 14, 2020

You had no idea that your new girlfriend or boyfriend was underage -- until their parents called the police and complained about your relationship. Now, you're sitting in a room in front of a police detective who is wearing a serious expression and asking you to turn over your phone. At the moment, you can't even remember what might be on it, so you're terrified of what they may find.

Here's what you should know about your rights:

The police can search your phone with a warrant

If the police have a warrant that permits them to do so, they can search your phone whether your want them to or not. You may still refuse to provide the access code, but that may just frustrate and delay the search, not stop it. Police have successfully been able to get around that problem in the past.

Your consent can negate the need for a warrant

If the police are asking you to show them what's on your phone, the odds are high that they don't have a warrant (and are hoping you won't ask for it). If you nervously comply because you feel intimidated, they don't need a warrant to look around the storage on that little pocket computer of yours. Assert your right to maintain your privacy by politely refusing.

Your phone may still be seized

The police may seize your phone if they have reason to believe there's evidence of a crime on it or you're placed under arrest. They don't want you to have the opportunity to delete anything incriminating. If that happens, you can bet that they'll soon ask a judge for a warrant that will give them access to your device.

Keep in mind that even saving a racy selfie from your underage boyfriend or girlfriend to your phone is considered posession of child pornography. You can also be charged with pandering or other types of sex crimes based on your text messages with someone underage. If you find yourself in a situation where you're potentially facing charges, talk to an attorney -- fast.