Law enforcement needs a search warrant just to look at your smartphone’s lock screen, a Seattle judge said a robbery suspect says the FBI turned on his phone and looked at the screen
- Judge Cougenur ruled in the U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday in favor of Joseph Sam, who was arrested for robbery and assault in May 2019.
- Coughenour said watching a person’s lock screen is classified as a search, which means law enforcement can’t do it without a search warrant.
- An arresting officer turned on Sam’s smartphone and scanned the lock screen
- The judge said that sometimes police officers can conduct a search without a warrant, so this may be constitutional in some circumstances.
- But seven months later, an FBI agent turned on the suspect̵
- The judge said it was unconstitutional because the FBI could not conduct a search without a warrant
- Evidence from the FBI obtained from the screen of a mobile phone belonging to Joseph Sam, who was arrested for robbery and assault in May 2019, has already been discarded
Law enforcement needs a search warrant only to examine the locked screen of the suspect’s smartphone, according to a Seattle judge’s decision.
Judge John Cougenour made a shocking decision in the U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday that the FBI violated the constitutional rights of a robbery suspect when an agent turned on his phone and scanned the screen.
Kugenur said looking at a person’s lock screen is classified as a search, which means law enforcement cannot do so without a search warrant.
The ruling means evidence obtained by law enforcement from a mobile phone screen belonging to Joseph Sam – who was arrested for robbery and assault in May 2019 – has already been discarded.
Viewing an individual’s locked screen is classified as a search, which means law enforcement cannot do so without a warrant, according to a Seattle judge’s decision.
However, a Washington state judge ruled that some of the evidence on the screen could be retained, as police officers could sometimes search without a warrant, while the FBI could not.
The judge’s decision was based on two separate incidents that began when Sam was arrested in May 2019.
One of the arrested police officers turned on Motorola’s Samo smartphone and examined the locked screen.
Then, seven months after his arrest in February, an FBI agent turned on the suspect’s phone again and took a picture of the lock screen.
The name “Streezy” appeared on the screen.
Sam’s lawyer filed a request to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement from the locked screen, saying a search warrant was needed to view the screen.
Kugenur ruled that both incidents were classified as searches, but that the search at the time of his arrest and the search at a later date were two separate issues.
Judge John Cougenour (pictured) shocked the U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday that the FBI violated an insult suspected of Joseph Sam’s constitutional rights when an agent turned on his phone and looked at the screen.
The judge said police could conduct searches without a search warrant in certain circumstances at the time of arrest, including if the search “was incidental to lawful detention or as part of police efforts to describe personal belongings.”
This means that the police, who looked at the locked screen on the phone during the arrest, may not have violated the rights of the suspect.
However, the judge said he needed more evidence to determine if the search was carried out for one of those reasons.
But the FBI’s later search was unconstitutional and violated the rights of the Fourth Amendment itself, the judge ruled, as the FBI cannot conduct a search without a warrant.
“The FBI physically intruded on Mr. Sam’s personal effect when the FBI turned on his phone to take a picture of the phone’s lock screen,” Kugenur said.
Since then, evidence from the FBI on Sam’s cell phone has been suppressed.
The government claims that the phone’s lock screen is public for everyone when the phone has power, so privacy cannot be expected.
The judge dismissed the argument, saying: “When the government obtains evidence by physically encroaching on a constitutionally protected area – as the FBI has done here – it is not superfluous to consider whether the government has also violated the defendant’s reasonable expectation of confidentiality.”