Vince Wheeler: Cell phone search vs. 4th Amendment

Jul. 01, 2014 @ 08:52 PM

Responses to the current hpe.com poll question pretty much indicate the public’s conflicted feelings about last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on cell phone searches by law enforcement officers.
While the high court’s ruling was unanimous in requiring officers to obtain warrants before searching your cell phone if you’re suspected of texting while driving, public sentiment about the issue isn’t.
On the hpe.com home page we are asking “Should law enforcement officers need warrants to search your cell phone to see if you have been texting while driving?”
So far 65 percent of those responding have clicked, “Yes. Police officers are invading my privacy otherwise” and 35 percent have clicked, “No. Police officers are trying to save lives.” If you have not yet clicked your view in the home page poll, I encourage you to do so by going to hpe.com.
Those responses in the poll pretty much sum up my split feelings about the matter, too. I’m thinking giving law enforcement unrestrained authority to search your cell phone for text messages steps over the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment line against unreasonable searches. But I’m also all for stopping the ridiculous practice of texting while driving. I’ve no problem with laws banning texting while driving.
It will be interesting to see how law enforcement agencies respond to the Supreme Court ruling. Will they just put less priority on trying to enforce no texting while driving laws? Or will they, as Guilford Sheriff BJ Barnes told The High Point Enterprise, continue to enforce the law even though the ruling will require more time for investigating a suspected case. And what happens during the time that an officer is getting a warrant? Does a suspect have the opportunity to erase any text messages he or she might have sent while driving?
Constitutional rights notwithstanding, the crux of the issue here is the stupidity involved with texting while driving. It’s a threat to public safety, and we need to try anything possible to get people to stop doing it — within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

vwheeler@hpe.com | 888-3517