If a police officer finds a digital device and does not know who it belongs to, is there probable cause to search it?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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If a police officer finds a digital device and does not know who it belongs to, is there probable cause to search it?

I recently threw my cell phone into a ditch as I believe I am under investigation for serious drug offenses. On it there are incriminating photos of me and several acquaintances, which I deleted, but are surely recoverable if law enforcement finds it should have thought about that. The phone is quite big but when I tried to go back to retrieve it, I could not find it.

Asked on April 5, 2016 under Criminal Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Yes: law enforcement can at the least "open" the phone and access it to determine whom it belongs to. If there was anything suspicious about the disposal (as there was in the case you describe), they may look further into it, to see if it related to a crime, an injury or accident, etc.; or if the phone comes up registered to someone who is under investigation or suspicion, they could quickly and easily get a warrant for a full search of it.

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