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Can an officer read my text messages?

As technological advances start to become an everyday facet of our lives, the legal system must expand to extend the law and citizen rights to cater to these new changes. As part of this continual growth, the law has extended to cell phone searches and leaves citizens wondering, “Do I have any rights when it comes to my personal property?”

Generally, the police cannot take your cell phone without your consent unless they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or will be committed. You have a right to privacy in terms of unreasonable search that extends to your personal property. The right to privacy falls under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which states:

“Every subject has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions.”

Depending upon your state, it may require a search warrant or probable cause that a crime has or will be committed to search your cell phone for text messages. In all states, if the officer has obtained a search warrant from a court, then your text messages can be read. There are only a few situations that allow for “warrantless” searches, such as when it’s a matter of life or death, the officer’s safety is at risk and there’s no time to obtain a search warrant.

Here’s an example of how text messages can lead you into legal trouble, even an arrest:

In 2008, an officer responded to a complaint of sexual activity in a pickup truck near an apartment complex. When the officer asked the driver for consent to search the truck, the officer discovered drugs in the ashtray and arrested the driver on site. After the arrest, the officer searched his cell phone to find images of a minor who was “sexting” McCray. The officer then charged the driver with child pornography charges in addition to drug charges.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime based upon a string of text messages, contact our legal defense team immediately. We’ll review the case and defend your rights until the end.

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