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Law enforcement officers need a search warrant to look at the lock screen on your smartphone, judge rules

Law enforcement officers need a search warrant to look at the lock screen on your smartphone, the Seattle judge decides if the robbery suspect says the FBI turned on his phone and viewed the screen

  • Judge Coughenour delivered a judgment in Seattle’s District Court on Monday in favor of Joseph Sam, who was arrested in May 2019 for theft and assault
  • Coughenour said looking at a person’s lock screen is classified as a search, meaning law enforcement officers can’t do it without a search warrant
  • An arresting officer turned on Sam’s smartphone and checked the lock screen
  • The judge said that police officers can sometimes conduct a search without a warrant, so this may have been constitutional under certain circumstances
  • But seven months later, an FBI agent turned the suspect’s phone back on and took a picture of the lock screen
  • The judge said this was unconstitutional because the FBI cannot conduct a search without an order
  • FBI evidence obtained from Joseph Sam’s cell phone screen – which was arrested in May 2019 for theft and assault – is now thrown away

Law enforcement needs a search warrant to look only at the lock screen on a suspect’s smartphone, according to a ruling by a Seattle judge.

Judge John Coughenour made a shocking statement in the US court in Seattle on Monday that the FBI violated the robbery suspect’s constitutional rights when an agent turned on his phone and looked at the screen.

Coughenour said looking at a person’s lock screen is classified as a search, meaning law enforcement officers can’t do it without a search warrant.

The decision means that evidence obtained by law enforcement through the screen of Joseph Sam’s cell phone – which was arrested in May 2019 for robbery and assault – has now been thrown out.

Looking at a person's lock screen is classified as a search, meaning law enforcement officers can't do it without a warrant, according to a ruling by a Seattle judge

Looking at a person’s lock screen is classified as a search, meaning law enforcement officers can’t do it without a warrant, according to a ruling by a Seattle judge

However, Washington state judge ruled that some evidence from the screen could be kept, because police officers can sometimes conduct a search without a search, while the FBI cannot.

The judge’s ruling was based on two separate incidents that started when Sam was arrested in May 2019.

One of the arresting police officers turned on Sam’s Motorola smartphone and checked the lock screen.

Seven months after the February arrest, an FBI agent turned the suspect’s phone back on and took a picture of the lock screen.

The name ‘Streezy’ was displayed on the screen.

Sam’s lawyer has filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement officers through the lock screen, saying that a search warrant is required to view the screen.

Coughenour found that both incidents are classified as searches, but that the search at the time of arrest and the search at a later time are two separate issues.

Judge John Coughenour (pictured) made a shocking statement in the Seattle U.S. court on Monday that the FBI violated suspect suspect Joseph Sam's constitutional rights violation when an agent turned on his phone and looked at the screen

Judge John Coughenour (pictured) made a shocking statement in the Seattle U.S. court on Monday that the FBI violated suspect suspect Joseph Sam's constitutional rights violation when an agent turned on his phone and looked at the screen

Judge John Coughenour (pictured) made a shocking statement in the Seattle U.S. court on Monday that the FBI violated suspect suspect Joseph Sam’s constitutional rights violation when an agent turned on his phone and looked at the screen

The judge said that at the time of the arrest, the police may conduct searches without warrant in certain circumstances, including if the search was “the result of a lawful arrest or as part of the police’s efforts to inventory personal assets.”

This means that the police who looked at the phone’s lock screen at the time of arrest may not have been a violation of the suspect’s rights.

However, the judge said he needed more evidence to determine whether the search was conducted for any of those reasons.

But the FBI’s later search was unconstitutional and violated the rights of Sam’s Fourth Amendment, the judge ruled, because the FBI cannot conduct a search without a warrant.

“The FBI physically invaded Mr. Sam’s personal effect when the FBI turned on his phone to take a picture of the phone’s lock screen,” Coughenour said.

FBI evidence on Sam’s mobile has since been repressed.

The government had argued that a phone’s lock screen is public to everyone when the phone is powered, so no privacy can be expected.

The judge dismissed this argument, saying, “If the government gains evidence by physically breaking into a constitutionally protected area – as the FBI did here – it is” not necessary to consider “whether the government also has reasonable expectations of privacy from suspect has violated. ”

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