Federal Judge Backs Cell Phone Search in Traffic Stop

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Federal Judge Backs Cell Phone Search in Traffic Stop US District Court for Oklahoma backs the cell phone search of a driver pulled over for a flapping license plate.

Drivers pulled over for minor traffic violations can have their cell phone searched, according to a recent federal ruling. A judge decided last week that Oklahoma City, Oklahoma police engaged in a legal search when they downloaded information from a driver who was pulled over for a “flapping temporary license plate” on a new car.


During the stop, Officer Scott McCall asked Wuences about his travel plans. At 12 minutes into the traffic stop, Officer McCall radioed for a drivers license check. A few minutes later the license came back clean, so Officer McCall asked dispatch to send a canine unit. At this point, Officer McCall asked Wuences if he could search the car. The driver said he “doesn’t mind.”

The drug dog alerted on the methamphetamine in the vehicle and Wuences was arrested. Without securing a search warrant the police took the mobile phones that were in the car and began using a Cellebrite UFED device to download all of the data. Many police departments, even in small towns this portable unit to crack cell phone passwords and grab emails, text messages, phone records and photographs automatically.

The courts have created an “automobile exception” to the prohibition on warrantless searches that allows an officer to look in closed containers found in a vehicle because of the reduced expectation of privacy when driving. Given the large amount of data contained on modern cell phones, the use of the ‘automobile exception” to justify this search is outrageous.


“The court finds, based on the record at the evidentiary hearing, that there was probable cause to believe the cell phones contained evidence of a crime,” Judge Frizzell ruled. “Further, the court finds that officers had reason to believe there was a risk that the evidence could be destroyed by remote means.”

The driver accepted a plea bargain and entered a guilty plea after the ruling was issued. A copy of the ruling is available at the source link below.

Source: US v. Zaavedra (US District Court, Northern District Oklahoma, 12/9/2013)

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