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Brown Vetoes SB 914 Ban on Warrantless Cell Phone Searches

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 11, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Is it time to toss your cell phone? Or if not toss it, at least lock it.

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed California Senate Bill 914 (SB 914) on Sunday; the bill, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), would have made it illegal for police to search a suspect's electronic devices during an arrest without a court-issued warrant, reports the Los Angeles Times.

In his veto statement, Gov. Brown explained that the measure, "would overturn a California Supreme Court decision that held that police officers can lawfully search the cell phones of people who they arrest," and deferred to the courts' authority in such matters.

The California Supreme Court opinion that Gov. Brown refers to is People v. Diaz, in which the court held that, "under the United States Supreme Court's binding precedent, the warrantless search of defendant's cell phone was valid."

The court's holding in Diaz allows police to view all of the contents of a suspect's phone, including phone numbers, photos, apps, voicemail, and text logs, reports CNN. But, much like a glove compartment or trunk, the ACLU says police cannot compel a suspect to unlock his or her phone without a warrant.

Gov. Brown's veto comes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Diaz's writ of certiorari petition challenging the California Supreme Court decision.

Warrantless cell phone searches will remain legal in California unless the legislature can find the two-thirds majority required in both houses to override Gov. Brown's veto. Based on the Senate's 28-9 vote in favor of the SB 914 in June, override is a possibility. While warrantless cell phone searches remain legal, however, lawyers should advise their clients to create passcodes to lock their phones.

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