Warrants for Digital Devices in North Carolina

Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Can I be arrested without evidence against me?”


As technology advances, so must the law. The problem is that sometimes the law is slow to catch up to technological advances, and it can take even longer for the law to cover each little nuance that might arise. Digital devices, like cell phones and other electronics, are by no means a new development in technology, but there are advances made every day, and these devices become more and more integral to committing crimes. One problem that often arises is issuing a search warrant for an electronic device and the digital contents contained on the device. Courts are left to make a decision on what the requirements are for issuing a search warrant for a digital device and when they are appropriate.


open-v3-Digital-evidence-Charlotte-Monroe-Lake-Norman-Criminal-defense-lawyer-300x200Recently, federal circuit courts have been hearing more cases pertaining to search warrants of digital devices. In United States v. Pratt, the Fourth Circuit found that there was a violation of the search and seizure clause of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The defendant was suspected of having sexually explicit photographs of an underage girl on his phone. Police seized the defendant’s phone when the defendant admitted that the phone contained these photographs. Police did not obtain a warrant for the phone for 31 days after it was seized. This was deemed an unreasonable search and in violation of the Fourth Amendment.


This is not the only case in which the appeals court found violations of the illegal search and seizure clause. Other circuits and states have also ruled on the issue of violation of constitutional rights with searching digital devices.


There are many factors that a court might consider when determining whether a search and seizure of property, including digital property, was proper and what the reason for a delay in issuing a warrant was. These factors include:


  • Was there a warrant from the outset or when the device was originally seized
  • If the evidence is contained on a physical digital device, can the physical device be retained until a trial starts
  • Has the owner of the device asked for the device to be returned
  • Does the device being retained contain vital information to the livelihood of the owner
  • Delay length
  • Reason that the delay occurred in the first place


The criminal law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are here to help all of your criminal law needs. Prosecution and police officers must follow the laws in bringing charges against someone and using evidence against them. We are here to enforce that there was no improper actions throughout the duration of the case, including improper searches and seizures. Our attorneys are dedicated to making sure your constitutional rights are not infringed upon in any capacity for the criminal charges being brought. Contact us today for a consultation. If you find yourself facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.








The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.







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