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Published January 06, 2011, 08:46 AM

Cells Phones: Off Limits or Fair Game for Police Investigations?

FARGO, ND (WDAY TV)- The California Supreme Court is pushing the envelope of lawful search and seizures. It ruled police are able to search through a person's cell phone upon arresting him or her without a search warrant. Could North Dakota and Minnesota to follow suit?

FARGO, ND (WDAY TV)- The California Supreme Court is pushing the envelope of lawful search and seizures. It ruled police are able to search through a person's cell phone upon arresting him or her without a search warrant. Could North Dakota and Minnesota to follow suit?

The California Supreme Court ruled that the cell phone is an item of personal property at the time of arrest and therefore can be searched just like your pockets. But one local defense attorney believes this to be an egregious violation of privacy rights.

“The California ruling is wrong,” said Steven Mottinger, a Fargo attorney. “I believe an individual has an expectation of privacy in regard to personal information stored in their cell phone.”

Mottinger isn't surprised an issue like this has made into the court system.

“Times have changed,” he said. “The legal analysis in regard to an individual’s expectation of privacy in regard to technological improvements, cell phones, computers, that kind of thing, creates new issues all the time.”

Fargo and Moorhead police say they almost always get a warrant when exercising such searches because they don't want to risk losing any evidence in the court of law due to unlawful search and seizures.

People we spoke with in Fargo had mixed reactions.

“I can't see any reason why they couldn't check if they could save somebody's life or pick up some of these people that are dealing drugs,” said Tim Klontz of Fargo.

“I consider it something like your home, it's something that you have, its your privacy,” said Fargo resident Mike Lelm. “With a search warrant, yes, then I believe they can. But without, I don't think they should be able to.”

Mottinger said he believes this will be an isolated ruling and other states will not follow California's lead. He also anticipates the ruling will be appealed and quite possibly overturned.

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