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If You're Arrested in Indiana, Can Officers Look in Your Cell Phone?

The unsatisfying answer for now is: maybe. In 2012, the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals addressed this issue in U.S. v. Lopez-Flores, 670 F.3d 803 (7th Cir. 2012). The federal government suspected that the defendant in that case was the supplier of illegal drugs. Following his arrest, and without a warrant, officers searched three phones that were in his possession. Specifically, at the scene of the drug sale and arrests, an officer searched each cell phone for its telephone number, which the federal government later used to subpoena the call history of each cell phone. Id at 804-05. The Seventh Circuit used the case to engage in an extensive discussion on the application of the Fourth Amendment to modern-day smartphones. Ultimately, it limited its holding and stated, "[b]ut these are questions for another day, since the police did not search the contents of the defendant's cell phone, but were content to obtain the cell phone's phone number." While the officers' limited actions were found to constitutional, had they gone further, they may not have been.

However, at the state level, the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed a similar case in Kirk v. State, 974 N.E.2d 659 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). In that case, officers arrested the defendant. While performing a search incident to arrest, officers found drug paraphernalia and a cell phone. Immediately after finding the defendant's cell phone, and without a warrant, an officer opened the inbox and looked at six to eight text messages. Id at 1071. In that case, the court found that the warrantless search of the cell phone was unreasonable under the state constitution, and was not admissible.

Ultimately and eventually, this question will likely be squarely decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. Until then, your phone may or may not be read by officers upon your arrest depending on the circumstances. If you have questions or concerns about this issue or other Fourth Amendment-related legal issues, contact Keffer Barnhart LLP today at 1-800-NOT GUILTY or (317) 857-0160.