SCOTUS cellphone search ruling won't change much for GB police

cell phone

GREEN BAY - We're learning about the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on cellphone searches by police.

In a 9-0 vote Wednesday, the justices agreed police cannot search a suspect's cellphone without a warrant, unless a person's safety or life may be in danger.

The ruling impacts police and sheriff's departments across the nation.

In Northeast Wisconsin, Green Bay police took notice of the high court's ruling on searching cellphones, but the decision doesn't change much for the department.

"Our standard practice has been going through a search warrant, through a judge to make sure everything is okay," said Lt. Jeff Brester.

Other area law enforcement agencies do the same. Prosecutors say it became more common after a similar ruling in Wisconsin in 2010.

Brown County District Attorney David Lasee says a warrantless search can lead to issues at trial.

"Then the information that was found from that cellphone would be suppressed, and we would not be able to present that evidence in court, if there was an illegal search and there wasn't another exception that applied," Lasee said.

FOX 11 asked Lt. Brester if the policy makes it more difficult for police to discover, secure and preserve evidence.

"Not really," Brester replied. "All it does is, if we have evidence of a cellphone that we want to search, we can seize that cellphone, and then we hold onto it until we get the search warrant."

Brester estimates Green Bay police apply for search warrants on cellphones around a couple dozen times a year. It takes about an hour to write one up and have a judge sign off on it.

"It slows us down a little bit, but it doesn't necessarily prevent us from investigating crimes," Brester said.

So what if you get pulled over for texting while driving? Green Bay police say officers may ask permission to look at your cellphone, but it's unlikely they will get a warrant to search it if you say no. Police generally reserve the practice for bigger cases.

"Homicides, armed robberies, some of the drug trafficking cases," explained Brester.

Prosecutors say it's increasingly common to see evidence from cellphones, and if obtained correctly, that evidence makes convictions easier.

"Information that's contemporaneous to the event is often memorialized in communications photos or videos from those cellphones," said Lasee.