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When Can Cell Phone Search Results Be Used as Evidence?

Published in Personal Injury on June 28, 2018

Reading Time: 7 minutes

A Brief Summary of the Following Article

  • Legal Context: Cell phone search results can be critical evidence in legal cases, with attorneys using them in both civil and criminal proceedings. While some may feel this is an invasion of privacy, there are legal ways to obtain this information. The evidence can include social media activity.
  • Constitutional Protection: The Fourth Amendment safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures. For legal cell phone searches, law enforcement or lawyers must demonstrate probable cause and, typically, secure a warrant.
  • Access Conditions: Various entities, including police and federal agencies, can search cell phones under certain conditions, like obtaining a warrant or subpoena. Exceptions exist, such as during arrests or to prevent imminent harm.
  • Evidence Admissibility: In court, the timing of cell phone searches affects evidence relevance. Older searches may be deemed less persuasive. Personal injury claims might be particularly sensitive to online activities, influencing case outcomes.

In today’s digital age, cell phones are more than just communication devices; they are reservoirs of personal information and potentially crucial evidence in legal cases. In investigations for civil and criminal cases, attorneys will go to great lengths to obtain the evidence needed to win a case. Social media has emerged as a significant source of information and potential evidence in legal contexts, both for and against individuals. Although often perceived as an invasion of privacy by many, cell phone search results can legally be used as evidence by a personal injury lawyer.

At Sweeney Merrigan Personal Injury Law, our extensive experience in personal injury law and deep understanding of legal intricacies allow us to shed light on the pivotal role cell phone search results can play in legal proceedings. Allow us to help you explore the conditions under which cell phone data can be admissible in court, balancing the fine line between privacy rights and the quest for justice. We are dedicated to supporting victims suffering injuries due to another person’s negligence, so contact us to retain our services and valuable information. You can reach us when you call (617) 391-9001 or complete our contact form .


The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects people’s right to privacy, banning unreasonable searches and seizures. In most situations, a law enforcement officer, attorney, or anyone else cannot look through or take something without probable cause. But the Fourth Amendment also protects cell phones. A law enforcement officer or injury lawyer must prove it is very likely that evidence is on the phone to search it legally.

For example, if you file a motor vehicle accident claim and your personal injury attorney suspects evidence of negligence on the defendant’s cell phone, they must provide proof that supports his or her belief to legally access the phone. If your attorney tries to use the defendant’s cell phone search results without having probable cause and a warrant, the court will most likely dismiss the evidence.


Different people can search your cell phone under different conditions. Federal agencies can search any information on your phone, including search results if they provide a subpoena. All cell phone companies must obey federal subpoenas to search phone records.

Police officers also have the right to search your cell phone in certain circumstances. As mentioned above, however, they must have probable cause for a court to consider anything discovered on the phone admissible. Along with probable cause, law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant for the information. The only exception is if the cell phone search is relevant to an arrest. If an officer believes that searching a cell phone could prevent impending damage, he or she can immediately search the phone without a warrant.


Both in civil and criminal cases, search results on a cell phone can play a major role in how the court rules. If you recently searched for something incriminating on your cell phone that relates to the case, the opposing attorney may be able to use the search as evidence that could severely damage your claims.

However, some stipulations accompany using cell phone search results as evidence in court. Most courts will dismiss searches that occurred a long time ago. For example, if you searched the incriminating thing eight months ago, the court will most likely consider it significantly less persuasive as evidence than if you searched it two weeks ago.


Due to the expansive prevalence of cell phones in today’s society, there have been many court cases involving cell phone privacy issues, and as a result, many people have started looking into the truth about how much of their cell phone activity is shared.

Along with law enforcement officers, advertisers and cell phone service providers can access the information on your phone. Advertisers use search history to determine marketing strategies. Cell phone service providers can access both incoming and outgoing calls and text messages, the frequency with which you use email or the internet, your general location, and more.

Numerous federal laws are meant to regulate and establish cell phone privacy and outside access, including some we can break down and discuss. We also have a recommendation to improve your privacy and your likelihood of success with your personal injury claim.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act

The ECPA makes it illegal to share digital content under certain circumstances. In particular, the Act protects wire, oral, and electronic communications when those dialogues are in the act of occuring, are in transit to an intended person, and are stored on computers. The ECPA applies to emails, phone call conversations, and electronically stored data.

However, some of this information may be obtainable through certain providers. Obtaining this data through a provider requires either a subpoena, a special court order, or a search warrant. Some legal processes also require a notice to the subscriber or client of the provider. 

The requirements to receive information depend on different factors. If you need more information about what factors impact your safety and other parties’ abilities to obtain your data, please contact a personal injury attorney. We can help explain this Act as it directly applies to your particular circumstances and legal matters. 

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

Lawmakers enacted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 1986 to keep people from getting into computers without authorization or consent. Though the law does not explicitly include cell phones, some courts may now consider cell phones to be computers, and therefore, protected under the act.

Stay Offline

We encourage you to stay offline as much as possible during your personal injury claim, as there is a severe risk that anything can be used against you in the case. While search results will not always come up as important evidence in personal injury cases, there is still a risk. Instead, we recommend you work with a qualified personal injury lawyer for helpful information and resources.

In addition, we recommend you avoid posting online, including on social media or personal websites. Anywhere you can post pictures, videos, text, or similar content, we urge you to deactivate and log out. Even if your posts do not feel relevant to your case or you have privacy settings enabled, others can gain access to this information. Anything you post online can be used against you by other parties.

To protect your privacy as much as possible, we recommend you only discuss your case with a personal injury attorney. At Sweeney Merrigan Personal Injury Lawyers, we can provide a much higher level of privacy than any friends or family. The client-attorney relationship is an extremely private one, and we can protect your information. We urge you to share as much information as you can with your attorney, as this will help us avoid unnecessary risks and complications.

How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Support You in Your Case?

If you are involved in legal matters and are concerned about your rights, including those relating to your phone search history and results, we encourage you to work with a qualified personal injury attorney. And if your case is related to any injuries you may have faced due to another person’s negligent behavior, we encourage you to work with an experienced personal injury lawyer. 

Sweeney Merrigan Personal Injury Lawyers can support you in multiple ways throughout the legal process, including but not limited to the following:

  • Conduct an independent investigation into the accident
  • Work with medical professionals
  • Negotiate with every party to recover a satisfactory settlement
  • Prepare your case for court
  • Collect and analyze evidence to prove liability
  • Consult with experts to determine the full scope of your damages
  • Assure that all documents are filed correctly and in a timely manner
  • Review your damages to determine the total value of your claim
  • Communicate with the other parties on your behalf
  • Organize your medical records and bills
  • Work with your healthcare providers to obtain any missing records
  • Organize and present the evidence in order to prove liability and damages
  • Access research methods and tools only available to legal professionals
  • Quicker delivery of documents from law enforcement and doctors
  • An understanding of the legal system and how to make it work for you
  • Connect you with additional legal specialists and helpful professionals
  • Refer you to a trustworthy medical provider
  • Estimate the value of your claim
  • Reduce stress related to your case

Please refrain from representing yourself during legal matters of any kind, especially those relating to injuries or loss of life. If you represent yourself, you risk a decrease of compensation. However, when you work with an personal injury attorney from Sweeney Merrigan Personal Injury Lawyers, we can help ensure you receive complete compensation for your losses. We can also help speed up litigation processes and decrease stress relating to your claim.

Get Invaluable Support and Fight for Complete Compensation: Contact Sweeney Merrigan Personal Injury Lawyers Today

Understanding the complexities of how and when cell phone search results can be used as evidence in a court case can be challenging. If you’re facing a situation where this type of evidence is pivotal, Sweeney Merrigan Personal Injury Lawyers can provide valuable support. Members of our team, like J. Tucker Merrigan, have an intense focus on personal injury law. With over 45 years of experience, we can guide you through your legal matters with confidence. We are committed to protecting your rights and ensuring outstanding outcomes.
Our team has also been recognized by outlets such as Best Lawyers and Super Lawyers. Don’t navigate these complex legal matters alone. Contact Sweeney Merrigan Personal Injury Lawyers today for a free consultation and benefit from our excellent experience and a successful track record. For more information, call our law office at (617) 391-9001. Or if you would prefer to email us, then please visit our contact page. Let us help you understand your rights and the potential impact of cell phone evidence in your case.

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