Today's cell phones are more than just a way to call a friend, and they contain a lot more information than just your contact list. Schedules, to-do lists, social media information, and even financial information are just some of the types of information that can be found on the average smartphone. It's no wonder that police officers may think that searching a suspect's smartphone can help them find evidence of a crime. But can an officer search your phone without your consent? Here's what you need to know.

The Supreme Court Says They Need a Warrant

It's not uncommon for police to search smartphones, even in the recent past. An officer may even have searched your cell phone in the past, if you were arrested or questioned and had a phone in your position. But as of 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that searching smartphones without a warrant is unconstitutional.

That means that you're under no obligation to allow an officer to search your phone, even if you're being arrested. (If you're not under arrest, the officer has even less right to search your phone). Unless the officer has a warrant, your cell phone is protected.

There are Exceptions to the Rule

Like most rules, there are some exceptions. Police officers can still search your phone under "exigent circumstances." In other words, if there's a very good reason that they have to do so immediately, without waiting for a warrant.

Imminent danger is one type of exigent circumstance. If the police believe that someone is at immediate risk of harm, like a kidnapped child, for example, and that evidence on your phone can prevent that harm, they can search your phone. Another type of exigent circumstance is the destruction of evidence. If police believe that you're about to destroy evidence that they believe is on your phone, they can search the phone. However, these occurrences should be rare.

What to Do if an Officer Asks to Search Your Phone

What should you do if an officer asks to search your phone during a traffic stop or arrest? Your best bet is to just say no. It's helpful to use a pass code or other encryption method to lock the phone, so that no one can search the phone without your consent (this protects you not just from overzealous police, but also from criminals, like identity thieves, that might like a look at your phone's contents).

If you do not have your phone locked and an officer tries to search it without a warrant, make sure to clearly deny consent. Don't shout or get angry, just say, "I do not consent to a search of my phone". Say it repeatedly if you have to. Make sure that you can be heard by the officer and by any nearby witnesses. Never try to physically stop the officer from searching your phone. Just respectfully decline to consent. As long as there's no warrant and the officer can't argue that you consented to the search, your attorney can get any evidence the officer does find thrown out in court.

If you're arrested, or if your smartphone was searched and you're afraid that could lead to an arrest, contact a criminal defense attorney in your area. Your attorney can protect your rights through the arrest and trial process.