Expanding the notion of privacy rights in the digital age, Texas’ highest criminal court ruled Wednesday that police improperly searched a Huntsville student’s cell phone without a warrant, even though the device had been sitting in a jail property room. The 8-1 ruling by the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected prosecutors’ arguments that officials may search any item that belongs to a jail inmate if there is probable cause to believe a law had been broken.
On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that law enforcement officials do need a warrant to search an arrested person’s cell phone after they’ve been jailed. The ruling did not decide whether it is legal or not for police to search a suspect’s phone at the incidence of arrest, which is currently a hotly contested subject. The Supreme Court is set to decide that matter later this year. For now, however, seven Texas appeals court judges have ruled that a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy over the contents of their cell phone while the phone is being stored in the jail property room. An eighth judge wrote a dissenting opinion.