Florida Jury Finds That Officers Cannot Seize Accident Bystanders’ Cell Phones for Evidence
An important decision to come out of Martin County, Florida in early October could have statewide implications for establishing limitations on law enforcement’s ability to collect smart phones in roadside contexts. The jury decided that a deputy violated a resident’s civil rights when he grabbed a bystander’s cell phone and told him that any photos taken could be used by the state as evidence.
In this instance, the bystander pulled over after seeing a serious crash with the intention of providing assistance. According to reports, once that rescue crews arrived, he, instead, took pictures of the incident, when the officer in question approached him and seized his phone without first obtaining consent or a warrant. When the bystander was told to leave without his phone, and refused to do so, he was then arrested.
4th Amendment Violations & Use of Excessive Force by Police
As a result, the bystander filed suit, claiming that the Sheriff’s Office violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure by collecting his smart phone without consent or a search warrant. The jury agreed with him, also finding that not only was the bystander’s arrest illegal, but that the deputy had used unnecessarily excessive force by purposely placing handcuffs on him so as to inflict pain, as well as denying him access to air conditioning while he was in the car.
Sadly, this officer’s conduct is not an isolated incident, but rather, part of a disturbing trend, where law enforcement officers believe that they have unlimited power and control over any and all recordings made in public and the devices used for recording. And yet, cell phones contain a significant amount of private information about all of us, and law enforcement should not – under any circumstance – be able to search and seize this information without any restriction. As a general rule, officers can only look at your phone if they have your consent or a search warrant, as provided by a judge and based on probable cause.
Some Claims Can Now Be Reopened
In addition, as a result of the jury’s finding, a number of claims against the sheriff’s office alleging violations of civil rights – including those involving First Amendment rights to document an event in a public place, false arrest and mistreatment—can now be appealed to be reopened.
Contact Our Florida Civil Rights Attorneys
If a law enforcement officer has exceeded his or her authority, you have the right to seek justice—not only to vindicate your own rights, but also in furtherance of the rights of everyone else who has been wronged by police abuse. Contact our experienced Florida civil rights attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can help ensure that your rights are protected.