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Can the police freely search your phone in Texas?

On Behalf of | Apr 30, 2024 | Criminal Defense

These days, nearly everybody has an amazing little computer in their pockets in the form of a smartphone – and many people keep a lot of private information buried on those devices.

Just how private is that information, really? In some states, the law says that the police can force you to unlock your phone – while other states say that doing so is a violation of your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Here’s what Texas has to say on the issue:

You have the right to decline to open your phone to warrantless searches

In this state, the police generally either need your consent or a warrant to open your phone before, during or after an arrest. In essence, the state Constitution says that your possessions, just like your person and your home, should be free from “unreasonable seizures or searches,” and the courts have broadly upheld this right. 

In fact, a case decided back in 2020 even held that police officers cannot use information that they see on your lock screen – so that would include “push notices” from text messages, missed calls and social media. If the authorities want to use that information, they need a warrant.

There are, naturally, some exceptions to the rule. In an emergency, where there is a legitimate fear that evidence will be destroyed, someone’s in physical danger or the police are trying to stop a crime in progress or a felon on the run, then the police may be able to execute a warrantless search of your phone. 

Understanding your rights (and the limits on official power) is important. If the police violate your rights, don’t try to stop them – but make sure that you explore the full meaning of that violation as part of your defense.