HOUSTON The U.S. Supreme Court says that police cannot look into cell phones for anything without a search warrant.
Essentially the ruling equates the phone and all the personal data on it to a desk drawer or diary at a home, something police have traditionally needed a warrant to get.
The ruling was a rare unanimous one from the often divided court.
No. There was never a warrant for any cell phone, said Al Herzik, knows all about police taking phones. It happened to him in 2011 when he recorded an incident involving an off-duty Houston police officer.
In the year it took them to get their phone back, the Herziks had one argument.
They don t have any business. It is your freedom. It is your personal stuff, Frank s wife Shelia Herzik said.
They had wiped the memory card with everything that was on it, Al Herzik said.
That can never happen again according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In the last 10 or 15 years, I cannot think of a more important case that helps rights of privacy against interests of law enforcement, said KHOU 11 News legal analyst Gerald Treece.
He said the decision makes it clear that an electronic device carries a huge range of information that is private.
Getting a search warrant is not the most difficult thing to do. But it requires an independent magistrate and the oath of an officer before people s privacy rights are violated, said Treece.
The Supreme Court equated a cell phone to a locked drawer inside someone s home or office that has always been off limits without a specific search warrant.
The ruling does not stop police from taking phones into their custody, but to look inside they need to go to court, and say what they are looking for.
A great start said Shelia Herzik, For a cop to come take your phone or go through your phone. They have no business doing that.
This should give citizens of Houston and everywhere else...the ability to not fear things they record with their cell phones, Al Herzik said.
The Houston Police Department released the following statement in regards to the ruling:
The Supreme Court is the law of the land. We here at HPD will be spending the coming days looking at the ruling and determining the best way to implement the changes needed. This certainly does not change how we will investigate crimes; it will only change the procedures we use to investigate them.