What to do about incriminating cell phone/text records?

I have a friend who had a 14 year old girl send him pictures that are now being considered child pronography. The cops took his phone for a week and he is now worried that they might find texts between him and other people about the fact that he has bought weed. Can the cops start a whole new case against him if it doesn’t have anything to do with why they took the phone? And who else will see these messages?

Asked on November 10, 2012 under Criminal Law, Florida


B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

If the cops already have the right to get into the phone to look for child pornography and other evidence of child pornograpy per a warrant or court-order, then there is not much your friend can do.  Once they have authorization to look in the phone, they can continue looking, even if it results in the accidental disclosure of other illegal activities.  (This is much like an officer having a reason to search a car-- like for marijuana-- but then find a kilo of cocaine.)  The main crux, is that the entry into the phone was legal and authorized.

If they have the phone only because your friend consented to the taking of the phone, then your friend can withdraw his consent.  However, if they have already found items-- they can use that information to get a warrant and keep the phone. 

As far as who can see these messages-- ususally the phone will be reviewed by an officer or other forensic specialist who is specially trained in preserving and retrieving data stored on a phone.   So this person, law enforcement, and the prosecutor will have the legal authority to review any information that is found.

If the officers find additional information of other illegal activities, then the officers can expand their current investigation or open a new investigation.   How the investigation is expanded will depend on the procedures of that jurisdiction.

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