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What the law says about giving up phone passcodes

Texas residents may feel that their phones are private property that can't be searched by police. However, officers can get warrants demanding that citizens provide the passwords to their cellphones and access to the contents inside of the device. One man in Florida was held in contempt of court for failing to provide the password to his phone after authorities got a warrant compelling him to do so.

The phone was found during a traffic stop during which an officer found marijuana, THC oil and a gun in the man's vehicle. A text message was seen on the phone asking if anything had been found. Ultimately, the man accepted a plea deal on a misdemeanor marijuana charge after spending 44 days in jail. He said that he felt good about taking a stand to protect what he saw as his rights.

While police do need warrants to seize a cellphone, it is unclear if a person can be compelled to provide a password to get into the device. In Florida, prosecutors rely on the decision in a 2014 case involving a man who took a picture up a woman's skirt. In that case, an appellate court ruled that he was not protected by the Fifth Amendment as he had claimed. Similar cases in other states are making their way through the courts.

Anyone who is charged with a crime could be subject to a variety of penalties if convicted. An attorney may take steps to make it less likely that a defendant will be convicted of a criminal charge. This could include arguing that evidence was seized illegally or given up under duress. If successful, an individual may receive a favorable plea deal from a prosecutor or be acquitted by a jury.

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