Can A Law Enforcement Officer Force A Suspect To Provide a Password?

July 2, 2019

You are out for a drive on a sunny day in Florida. Suddenly, you see police lights flashing and sirens going off. When you look in your rearview mirror, you realize that a law enforcement officer is after you. After you roll down your window, he tells you that you were speeding and notices your phone sitting on the seat beside you. He asks you politely for your phone so he can view it. 

Now, you may be unsure as to why the law enforcement officer would ask for your cell phone. Do you give it to him and provide him with the password or do you tell him that you would rather not give him your personal property when you believe he has no business seeing it? 

To Give or Not To Give

In a recent case that happened in Broward County here in Florida, a teenager was driving when he was pulled over for speeding. He was accused of driving under the influence, which resulted in a crash that killed a family member. Besides the family member that was killed in the accident, he had one other person with him. 

Florida law enforcement officers state the teen’s blood alcohol level was .086, which is just above the legal limit in Florida (.08). The attorney for the teenager states the readings were wrong, and it was an unfortunate accident. The passenger who survived the crash noted that the teenager was drinking vodka before the crash happened and that she was talking with him via his iPhone.

Police were able to obtain a search warrant for the phone. The warrant stated they could look at the images on the phone, as well as text messages and anything else they were looking for. Unfortunately for the police, there was a password on the phone, so they were unable to see any activity on the phone. 

Judge Andrew Siegel ordered the teen to provide police officers with a password. The teen’s attorney objected. However, the judge stated it was no different than giving a key to a lockbox to police officers. 

The judge’s decision on the password was appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeal. They were in favor of the teen and his lawyer. The court ruled one cannot force someone to hand over their password to their cell phone, regardless of whether they killed someone or not. They stated that forcing someone to hand over their password was equivalent to them testifying against themselves. This is a violation of the Fifth Amendment. They also stated that law enforcement might be able to obtain a key, but they are not able to receive the combination. 

Florida Attorneys at Musca Law

If you are ever in a similar situation where law enforcement wants the password to your cell phone, you will need an experienced attorney. Lawyers at Musca Law can assist you with a case like this. These attorneys are not afraid to go head to head with anyone. Please call us at (888) 484-5057 to set up a free no-obligation consultation.