No warrant needed

texting and driving

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KIMT NEWS 3 — Texting and driving is said to be just as dangerous as drinking and driving and is illegal in our area to do, but chances are you still see it all the time out on the roads.

Not everyone may admit it, but many have broken the law with their cell phones.

“I have texted while I was driving, I think it’s definitely not safe,” said Meghan Lichter of Albert Lea.

Not safe, and a major cause of accidents. But if police at the crash scene believe a driver was using a phone at the time, should they be able to search the phone to find out?

“I see the reason for it. If I was the reason for the accident and I was texting, I guess, yes, they have the right to figure that out,” Lichter said.

In Minnesota police can take your phone at the scene of an accident.

“If we suspect someone was texting, that may trigger an officer to seize it and go through the process, but it’s not that often. A lot of crimes we do grab phones now,” said Chief Dwaine Winkels of the Albert Lea Police Department.

But the law says they cannot search the phone right there at the scene.

“We can either do a phone subpoena, ask them for the records, or we can physically confiscate your phone and apply for a search warrant to search that phone,” Winkels said.

It can be a long process and one that may go away in New Jersey, where a bill is being proposed that would allow police to search phones at the scene of an accident without a warrant.

“It’s got serious fourth amendment rights to it, search and seizure. It’s a civil liberty question. You’re saying to the officer that whenever you’re involved in an accident, grab your phone, they can immediately search it. What about other stuff they find on there? What if there’s other stuff not related to the accident? That can’t be used then, or can it be used against you for other crimes?” Winkels said.

Which is why some like Lichter think there needs to be limitations.

“I think there should be boundaries on everything, like if they can pick up the phone and just look at what’s right there on the front screen then that seems okay,” Lichter said.

The best way to avoid police searching through your phone may just be putting it away when you are behind the wheel.

Like Lichter, Minnesota State Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) said there should be limitations. She said cell phone privacy should be consistent with landline privacy since both of them are phones, unless you need to search it to identify a person in an accident.

State Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) said it would definitely raise privacy concerns if something like that was proposed in our area.

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