EAU CLAIRE, MENOMONIE, Wis., WASHINGTON (AP, WEAU) -- The Supreme Court seems wary of allowing police unbridled freedom to search cellphones found on people they arrest.
The court heard arguments in two cases Tuesday involving a drug dealer and a gang member whose convictions turned in part on evidence found on their cellphones.
The justices suggested they might favor limiting warrantless cellphone searches to looking for evidence of the crime on which an arrest is based. Both defendants could lose in such an outcome.
But it would allow the court to avoid subjecting people arrested for minor crimes from having the vast contents of their cellphones open to police inspection.
A California criminal case made it to the Supreme Court after a man was pulled over for an expired license; an officer noticed guns in his car and searched his phone, finding evidence leading to several convictions.
Supreme Court justices are arguing the case, with some saying his privacy was violated, and others say it's a tool to find valuable evidence and ensure safety.
Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said his department will search phones during an arrest without a warrant when it's a serious case.
“Take for instance, an abducted child and the person's got a phone, time is of the essence for us to take a look at and see if we can extract to see if that person was there when the person disappeared,” Cramer said.
Dunn county Sheriff Dennis Smith said his deputies will secure phones, but wait until a warrant is issued before going through them.
He said a new smart phone application ‘remote dump,’ allows someone to delete a phone's information from another phone, so his department will take measures to prevent that from happening.
“If we go through the work of doing a case, we want to do it right so that the person doesn't have that loophole to get out of it. We want to be able to get a conviction out of the case,” Smith said.
Cramer said the Supreme Court’s decisions can have a big impact on how they conduct arrests.
“We may have to change some of the policy as a result of this,” Cramer said.
“I just don't want it to be where they bring in this could have happened, this maybe would have happened, this is what they think happened. It's gotta be based on what did happen and what was allowable and not get into all the ‘ifs,’ Smith said.