Massachusetts law about cell phone searches

Cases on the search of cell phones or cell phone location information.

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Table of Contents

General information

Cell phone privacy, ACLU.
Multimedia website explaining cell phone privacy issues all over the U.S.

Cellphone searches after arrest, Nolo.
Information about police officers searching cellphones, including if they can make you unlock your phone and a summary of the case of Riley v. California.

Do the police need a warrant to track you with your cell phone?, Nolo.
Talks about the case Carpenter v. United States and what certain words mean in cases addressing cell phone location data.

The Massachusetts digital evidence guide, Mass. Attorney General, 2023.
This Guide helps you learn about laws in Massachusetts for criminal cases involving technology or digital evidence. Search and Seizure law is based on the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article Fourteen of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, which is like the Federal Fourth Amendment but sometimes covers more situations.

Cell phone data

Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014)
Warrantless search of cell phone incident to arrest is unconstitutional.

"The police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested." -- Riley v. California

Recent Massachusetts court decisions regarding cell phone data

Com. v. Carrasquillo, 489 Mass. 107 (2022)
"No bright-line test applies in determining whether a defendant has a reasonable expectation of privacy in content posted to a social media account having a designated 'private' setting; each case must be resolved by carefully considering the totality of circumstances."

Com. v. Henley, 488 Mass. 95 (2021)
"Although general or exploratory searches are not permitted, requiring a search warrant application to identify specific locations or files on a cell phone to be searched places an unrealistic burden on law enforcement and restricts legitimate search objectives, given the storage capacity and file structure of most cell phones."

Com. v. Snow, 486 Mass. 582 (2021)
Gives more guidance on the proper scope of cell phone search warrants, including being specific in the request and time restrictions.

Com. v. Feliz, 486 Mass. 510 (2020)
Due to the nature of a defendant’s previous offenses, it was reasonable for the probationary department to inspect and search any electronic devices belonging to the defendant as a special condition of probation. This condition only allowed searches of the defendant's electronic devices for child pornography, not his home or person, and not for other subjects.

Com. v. Shipps, 97 Mass.App.Ct. 32 (2020)
Constitutionality of a cell phone search by a probation officer pursuant to a condition of probation.

Print sources

Criminal practice and procedure, 4th ed., (Mass Practice v 30) Thomson Reuters, 2014 with supplement. Sections 5:163-5:164 Search of cellular telephones and computers; The problem of particularity in searches of cell phones, computers, and other devices.

Motor vehicle law and practice: with forms, 5th ed. (Mass Practice v. 12) Thomson Reuters, 2021 with supplement. Sections 18:63 – 18:64 Search of cellular telephones and electronic devices, Cell site location services and global positioning systems.

Suppression matters under Massachusetts law, LexisNexis Matthew Bender, annual.

Cell phone location information

Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. 296 (2018)
"An individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy, for Fourth Amendment purposes, in the record of his physical movements as captured through CSLI." Police need a warrant to get a person’s historical cell phone location information from their cell provider.

The evolution of Massachusetts court decisions regarding a defendant’s cell phone location data

Comm. v. Arrington, 493 Mass. 478 (2024)
The SJC talks about using FLH (frequent location history) in court, either with or without an expert witness. The decisions says that the experts didn't show enough proof that FLH was reliable in this case. But, in a concurring opinion, they mentioned that if the courts learn more about FLH, it might fix the issues in the Commonwealth’s case and “that today’s ruling does not dictate the result at a Daubert-Lanigan hearing in another case based upon either existing or evolving technology."

Comm. v. Perry, 489 Mass. 436 (2022) 
The SJC talks about how to keep the public safe while still respecting people’s privacy when it comes to getting information about cell site location information (CSLI), and "tower dumps" (collection of data on a multitude of individuals over multiple days.) The SJC decided the Commonwealth need to get a warrant from a judge. And before giving the warrant, the judge must make sure there's a plan for getting rid of any data that isn't related to the search.

Comm. v. Almonor, 482 Mass. 35 (2019)
Real-time "pinging" of a cell phone location by a service provider at the request of police is a search under Article 14 of the Mass. Constitution, and so normally will require a warrant. By making the defendant's phone show where it is in real-time, the government invaded the defendant's privacy because they expect their phone's location to stay private.

Comm. v. Raspberry, 93 Mass.App.Ct. 633 (2018)
"The judge ruled that the CSLI search was justified under the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement, because the police had a 'good faith, reasonable belief that there was a serious and imminent threat to human life'."

Comm. v. Estabrook, 472 Mass. 852 (2015)
A request for historical CSLI [cellular site location information] for a period covering six hours or less does not require a search warrant.

Comm. v. Augustine, 467 Mass. 230 (2014)
A warrant is generally required for historical cell site location information (CSLI) CSLI [cellular site location information] as outlined in Article 14 (XIV) in the Declaration of Rights in the Massachusetts Constitution.

Decisions regarding the cell phone location data of others

Comm. v. Fredericq, 482 Mass. 70 (2019)
Defendant in a car could challenge the search someone else's cell phone location without a warrant because police knew that he was in car with murder suspect whose movements were being tracked through CSLI for days.

Comm. v. Lugo, 482 Mass. 94 (2019)
Defendant could not challenge the search of another person's cell phone location information where police did not know they were together, and "the period of the search - less than two hours - was not sufficiently significant to allow the defendant standing."  

Contact   for Massachusetts law about cell phone searches

Last updated: May 14, 2024

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