Florida appeals court tosses out warrantless search of cell phone

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A South Florida appeals court on Wednesday tossed out the warrantless search of a man’s cell phone, which led to the names and Social Security numbers of two dozen other people.

A three-judge panel of Miami’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Viervens Saint-Hilaire, who sued to suppress the evidence from the cell phone.

As part of a routine traffic stop, a police officer learned Saint-Hilaire’s wallet contained several debit cards with a similar color and bank name, the ruling said. Saint-Hilaire was arrested based on the coding on one of the cards. A subsequent search of a cell phone found names and Social Security numbers of about 24 or 25 people.

Later, Saint-Hilaire was charged with nine counts of possession of personal identification information with the intent to defraud. The search was deemed valid by a Miami-Dade County circuit judge, but then overturned by the appeals court, partly due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on warrantless searches of cell phones.

“Here, there was no evidence that the cell phone was going to be used to endanger the officer or resist arrest, or that evidence contained in the cell phone was going to be destroyed,” Judge Ivan Fernandez wrote in the ruling, joined by judges Leslie Rothenberg and Thomas Logue.

“Thus, the circumstances surrounding Saint-Hilaire’s arrest required the officers to obtain a warrant before they searched the contents of the cell phone.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.