Advances in technology have created new dilemmas when it comes to constitutional questions of when the police may search and seize property. Nowadays, many people carry a smartphone or another device that contains personal information. In some criminal cases, the police may seize these devices but cannot access them.
In situations where seized electronic devices have password locks, it can create a legal dilemma. Should the police or a court demand a person supply a password or unlock the device and potentially reveal incriminating information by doing so?
Recent developments in Indiana
The IndyStar reported on a recent case that could have profound implications for this issue in the state of Indiana. A woman from the city of Carmel refused a Hamilton County court order to unlock her phone, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. After the court ruled her in contempt, she appealed the case to the Indiana Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor.
As the IndyStar report explained, the argument brought forth by the woman was that by forcing her to unlock her phone, the police were compelling her to testify against herself. The Indiana Supreme Court concurred, saying that by unlocking the phone, the police could gain access to information they did not already know and build a case against her.
Possible ramifications for the future
Court rulings such as this Indiana Supreme Court case are important because they may provide precedent for other cases involving search and seizure of electronic devices. If the police should acquire evidence from a smartphone or a computer while violating the constitutional rights of the owner in order to get it, a court could throw out the evidence as inadmissible.