Court Allows Cops to Use New Way to Access Your Phone

Cheryl-Annette Parker /
Cheryl-Annette Parker /

Thanks to the invention of the smartphone, we now have an increasing amount of personal information on our cell phones, from addresses and banking records to purchasing habits and medical details. And now, thanks to California court, all that info is available to police officers without a warrant.

If you’ve watched any number of law-centered TV shows, you likely know that getting a warrant to access a suspect’s information is a critical part of the legal process. And while many of these shows portray the need for such warrants as a bit annoying, it’s key to knowing that it is, in fact, mandated by the US Constitution.

Per the Fourth Amendment, Americans have the right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” It goes on to say that this “right… shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.”

In other words, your things are your things. As such, should law enforcement of any kind suspect you of wrongdoing, they must ascertain a written, legal warrant to search your things.

Similarly, the Fifth Amendment ensures that no one can be forced to become a “witness against himself” in the eyes of the law. You know, the infamous saying, “I plead the Fifth.” Basically, it means that you don’t have to incriminate yourself or provide information that may incriminate you.

And yet, both of these Constitutional rights were recently violated in 2021. Worse than that, a California circuit court just ruled that those violations are now legal.

Jeremy Travis Payne was pulled over by local law enforcement in 2021 because his windows were tinted too dark for state law. While a small violation, during the stop, Payne admitted that he was on parole. What this means is law enforcement usually does have the right to search your person without a warrant, as an agreement of parole.

So Payne was searched, handcuffed, and placed in a patrol car while his vehicle was searched.

So far, so good.

But then officers asked to see Payne’s phone. Payne described the phone and told them where to find it in the vehicle, as it was not on his person. Upon finding it, officers then asked Payne to unlock it for them so they could search through it for any incriminating information.

Payne, knowing his rights, refused to do so. So officers grabbed his hand and forcibly placed his thumb over the home button to unlock the device. On the phone, they found a video in which Payne appears to be handling a bag of small blue pills believed to be fentanyl.

They then proceeded to gain access to Payne’s home via the keys they found on him in their search, where they found the illicit drugs.

Naturally, Payne was then arrested and charged.

Now, to be sure, anyone handling fentanyl, especially in this amount, and suspected of dealing it, needs to be arrested and punished. Payne is not a saint by any stretch of the word.

However, the manner in which the incriminating information was obtained is a bit questionable.

While the conditions of his parole mean that he and his car could be searched, even his home, if probable cause existed, his phone is quite another story. Usually, even with parolees, a warrant is needed to obtain such things as banking records, call logs, travel info, and most other things found on a smartphone.

However, California’s 9th Circuit Court disagreed.

As Police1 reported, the court said that “Payne was never compelled to acknowledge the existence of any incriminating information. He merely had to provide access to a source of potential information.” They continued saying that it was essentially no different than providing a blood sample or fingerprint, which are required at booking.

Furthermore, they noted that the officer who forced Payne to unlock his phone “did not intrude on the contents of Payne’s mind.”

In any case, it’s a rather dangerous precedent to set. Firstly, both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments were put in place to protect people, whether innocent or guilty, from tyranny. Allowing them to be violated essentially gives dictatorship a foothold in our legal system.

And secondly, it means that someone in the near future is bound to be hurt or worse in a struggle between cops to get a phone unlocked.

It’s just dangerous, plain and simple.