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Rochester police aren't surprised by cell phone ruling

The United States Supreme Court decision to require authorities to obtain search warrants before looking through cell phones could affect police practice across the state — except, possibly, here in Rochester.

The Rochester Police Department said the ruling won't affect them at all — they've been waiting for search warrants to search cell phones for a few years now.

"It really isn't changing our local practices at all," said Lt. Mike Sadauskis of the Rochester Police Department.

The Olmsted County Attorney office agreed the ruling will not force significant change in Rochester. The office has been advocating the use of warrants to search cell phones for awhile now.

"We've kind of been working that way anyway," Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem said.


The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police must obtain a warrant before they search a cell phone belonging to someone they've arrested.

"I think it's a remarkable decision," said Teresa Nelson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

"The Court is starting to recognize the Constitution applies to 21st century technology, and that's really great to see," she said.

When the news came out that warrants are mandatory, Ostrem said he wasn't surprised.

"It wasn't entirely unexpected," he said. "We've seen some movement towards restriction in the past."

Sadauskis said the police department also lacked wasn't surprised by the decision. They had been watching cases across the country and were prepared for the ruling.

"We could see the trend changing," he said.

Ostrem said they have gradually increased the use of warrants as cell phone technology has advanced. Ostrem said they watched as what was once a simple device with a few numbers evolved into something more.


"We started looking at them more like a computer," he said.

And for both the Supreme Court and the local court system, the classification of a computer is important. Searching computers has required a warrant for a long time.

Nelson said the warrants can help an investigation. Without one, the work investigators do run the risk of being inadmissible in court.

"I certainly applaud the Olmsted County Attorney for being proactive on this," Nelson said.

But she added that not all of Minnesota has been obtaining warrants before searching cell phones.

"This (decision) will require police to change their practices," Nelson said.

In the Supreme Court's decision, the quantity and variety of information on today's cell phones was a determining factor. The justices compared a cell phone to a computer as well.

Ostrem said that another factor he considered was the relative permanence of information on cell phones. Unlike drugs or guns, he said it is more difficult to get rid of all the information on a phone.


"The information on a cell phone isn't generally going to dissipate," he said.

And because of this, police have time to get a warrant.

"We can get a search warrant and go back and search a phone anytime," Ostrem said.

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