California governor protects warrantless cellphone searches

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/10/2011

A court ruling in California allowed police to search cellphones in certain instances without a warrant. Gov. Jerry Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that sought to reverse that court ruling.

In January, the state Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers, without a warrant, can search the contents of a cellphone confiscated from anyone under arrest.

The majority of justices said arrestees lose their right of privacy for anything they are carrying when taken into custody.

Shortly after the decision was handed down, state lawmakers went to work in Sacramento to counter it. The Legislature sent Gov. Brown a bill to clarify that officers must first obtain a search warrant when there is probable cause to believe a suspect’s phone contains evidence of a crime.

Supporters said the privacy safeguards are critical as technology advances and cellphones become much more than simple devices to make phone calls.

SB914 included a provision to continue to allow officers to search cellphones without a warrant when there is an immediate threat to public safety or the arresting officer.

Nevertheless, Brown said in a veto statement issued Sunday, Oct. 9, the decision should be left to the courts.

“The courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizure protections,” Brown wrote.

Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs, was disappointed in the governor’s decision not to protect rights of citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.

“So much for Gov. Brown being a protector of civil liberties,” he said.

The governor did, however, sign a separate bill that addresses warrantless searches. The new law authorizes warrantless searches of plants that make commercial copies of CDs and DVDs. The new rule is intended to crack down on piracy of intellectual property.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California, click here.

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