California governor upholds certain warrantless searches, again

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, October 04, 2012

An effort in California to prohibit police from searching cellphones, or other devices, in certain instances without a warrant has been vetoed by the governor.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill a year ago citing a January 2011 state Supreme Court ruling that law enforcement officers, without a warrant, can search the contents of a cellphone confiscated from anyone under arrest.

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

Brown said at the time that the decision should be left to the courts.

About three months after Brown’s remarks the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue. Justices ruled unanimously that it was unconstitutional for police to install and use a GPS device to monitor a vehicle’s movements without a warrant.

Armed with the decision from the nation’s top court, California lawmakers acted this year to pass 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.

The governor said over the weekend that the bill misses the mark.

“It may be that legislative action is needed to keep the law current in our rapidly evolving electronic age,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “But I am not convinced that this bill strikes the right balance between the operational needs of law enforcement and individual expectations of privacy.”

The bill – SB1434 – also covered time limits on monitoring vehicles. Specifically, it limited search warrants to up to 30 days.

An exception would have been permitted in cases of emergency, ongoing criminal activity, and when the owner or user gives consent.

Supporters can bring the issue back up for consideration during the 2013 session.

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

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