Do I have to give police access to my phone during a traffic stop?
Our phones are more than just a way to make a phone call. They contain written messages to friends and loved ones and photos as well as documents and even a record of places we have traveled. With all this information, it may come as a surprise if a police officer asks for access to your phone during a traffic stop.
Why would an enforcement officer ask to see my phone?
For the reasons noted above. Our phones have tons of information and giving police access to our smart phones can give them evidence to justify a more thorough search or potentially even support criminal charges.
Can the police ask for my phone?
They can ask, but whether or not you have to hand it over will depend on a couple of different things. If the officer asks for the phone at the same time they request to see your driver’s license and registration, you can probably decline. In this instance, provide the officer with your license and registration, as is required, but politely decline to provide your phone.
If you decide to open the phone up and hand it over, they can look through the phone to see if there is anything that could serve as evidence of criminal activity. This is because once you had it over, you have likely agreed to a consent search — essentially given police your consent to conduct a full search of your phone.
There are situations when the police can get access to your phone even if you object. This often requires a warrant. Why? The Fourth Amendment provides the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the search of a phone often falls within these protections. To conduct the search, the officer would need to request a warrant from the court. The court will generally require the officer have probable cause before it will grant the warrant. The courts generally define probable cause as a reasonable basis to believe that the search will result in evidence of criminal activity.
What should I do during a traffic stop?
Roll down the window and wait, with your hands on the steering wheel, for the officer to approach. When the officer approaches and asks for your license and registration, let them know where you are reaching to get these documents and do so. Be polite, but concise. The officer may look around the interior of the vehicle from where they stand outside your vehicle but can generally only conduct a more thorough search if probable cause is present.
If you believe your rights were violated during a traffic stop you can fight back. Any evidence gathered through an illegal search is not admissible. This means the court would not allow the evidence resulting in a reduction or dismissal of any resulting criminal charges.