The Police Have to Get a Search Warrant Before Looking at the Contents of Your Cell Phone

In the case of Cedric Smallwood versus the State of Florida, Mr. Smallwood was arrested for robbing a convenience store. Following his arrest, the police seized a cell phone that belonged to him and looked at some incriminating pictures that he had in his phone of guns and money. The police did not get a search warrant before they searched the contents of Smallwood's phone. Those incriminating pictures were later shown to the jury at Smallwood's trial. That jury ultimately convicted him of the crimes of robbery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Smallwood appealed his case to the Florida Supreme Court where he argued that the search of the contents of his cell phone was illegal because the police did not get a search warrant before doing so. The Supreme Court agreed with Smallwood and reversed his conviction. In doing so, the Supreme Court stated:

1. The police had a right to take possession of Smallwood's cell phone after arresting him.

2. However, once the police did that, there was no chance that Smallwood could have used that phone as a weapon, nor could he have destroyed the contents of that phone.

3. No "exigent circumstances" existed that justified the police searching Smallwood's phone before getting a warrant.

4. Therefore, the police were required to get a search warrant before searching the contents of Smallwood's phone.

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