Supreme Judicial Court Decision Makes it Harder for Police to Seize Cellphones

In a move that strengthens individuals’ right to privacy, the state’s highest court ruled that state law enforcement must have particularized evidence that a cellphone is tied to a criminal act in order to be able to seize the cellphone. While the court acknowledged that there is a common sense notion that cellphones are often used by criminals to communicate with other criminals about their criminal activities, or that cellphones could be used for other tasks, like taking pictures that could also be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding, the mere fact that there is only a commonsense notion of these uses of a cell phone is not sufficient override an individual privacy rights. This decision makes it harder for police to seize cellphones.


Harder for Police to Seize Cellphones

The underlying case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was Massachusetts v. Onyx White, which involves the police seizure of White’s cellphone as part of their investigation into the murder of a Roxbury store clerk Geraldo Serrano. White’s phone was seized as evidence by Boston police without White’s permission and without a warrant, and the police had no probable cause to seize the cellphone. Since White was not the only criminal suspect in the death of Serrano, police argued that it was reasonable to believe that the two criminals had uses their cellphones in the facilitation of the murder, but the police officers had no other particularized evidence to suggest that White had used his cell phone in the commission of the crime.

Criminal Defendants Have Rights

What is important to take away from this Supreme Judicial Court decision is that criminal defendants have rights, such as the right to privacy. Criminal defendants have a right to a fair trial, and that starts with police officers obtaining and handling evidence in a legal and appropriate manner. Seizure of someone’s cellphone must be done legally, and there must be particularized evidence to support the seizure. Once the cellphone is in police custody, law enforcement must properly maintain and demonstrate custody of the cellphone as evidence.

All too often law enforcement in Massachusetts illegally seizes property or evidence during a criminal investigation and then later try and use this illegally obtained evidence against a criminal defendant. It is important that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney working on your defense to make sure that the evidence that is presented against you was legally obtained, otherwise the evidence is inadmissible in court. Criminal defendants should not be unfairly prejudiced by illegally obtained evidence.

When You Need a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney

When you are facing criminal charges, it is important to get in touch with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you with your case.