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Name: People v. Diaz
Case #: S166600
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 01/03/2011

Police do not need a warrant to search a cell phone carried by someone who has lawfully been arrested. About 90 minutes after appellant’s arrest for participating in a controlled drug sale, police searched the text message folder on his cell phone. When confronted with a text message that implicated him in the sale, appellant admitted participation. The trial court denied appellant’s motion to suppress the warrantless search of the phone, finding it was lawful since the property had been seized and searched incident to a lawful arrest. The Supreme Court granted review to decide if the search fell within the “search incident to arrest” exception which is usually justified by a search for weapons for officer safety or to avoid the concealment or destruction of evidence. Appellant agued the search should not have been upheld based on this exception because it was too remote in time and police had exclusive control over the phone at the time. The court reviewed pertinent U.S. Supreme Court authority, including U.S. v. Robinson (1973) 414 U.S. 218, U.S. v. Edwards (1974) 415 U.S. 800, and U.S. v. Chadwick (1977) 433 U.S. 1. The court distilled the rule that items immediately associated with the person arrested can be searched without a warrant even if the search is delayed, but items not associated with the person, but rather just in his or her immediate control at the time of the arrest, will require a warrant when too much time has elapsed. The court held the cell phone was immediately associated with appellant’s person because it was on his person at the time of arrest, and so the search was lawful. The majority rejected the notion that the nature of the character of the item seized should determine whether a warrant is required to search it.