Experienced Nashville Defense Firm

Can a Judge Order You to Disclose Your Password?

Criminal investigations have turned to cell phone searches as a major investigative tool. Cell phones may contain damaging evidence. People use cell phones to take pictures, videos, send emails and text messages. It can provide a treasure trove of evidence to the police.

Police can search your cell phone by consent or with a search warrant. One lesson is everyone should have their cell phone password protected. What happens if the police can't open the phone without a password?

In a recent case, a Florida judge ordered a man to reveal his password to his cellphone. Police believed the phone contained images of his abuse on one of his children. Christopher Wheeler did not give police the correct password and he was sentenced to 180 days in jail for contempt of court. Wheeler contended he gave police the correct password.

In another Florida courtroom, another man avoided jail because he could not remember the password. Both Florida courts are relying on a decision by Florida courts where the courts could order disclosure of a cell phone password. The Florida Supreme Court is going to decide the case. Tennessee courts have not addressed the issue. However, I have seen one search warrant which ordered the defendant to provide his thumbprint.

Some argue the disclosure violates one's Fifth Amendment Rights. Advances in technology have forced the courts into uncharted waters on search and seizure law. With each new advance, it creates new ground on what is legally permissive.

The next question is whether the jail sentence on the contempt finding violates ones double jeopardy rights. it is a very dark and complex web we are weaving.