What are our rights if there is an ongoing internal criminal investigation at my place of employment, a commuter railroad, and our phones were confiscated without warrants?

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What are our rights if there is an ongoing internal criminal investigation at my place of employment, a commuter railroad, and our phones were confiscated without warrants?

Students and employees have been interrogated regarding information on cheating on tests. Due to that our personal phones have been confiscated to go through our emails and texts. No warrants were presented to obtain our phones. It’s over 7 months.

Asked on January 15, 2015 under Criminal Law, New York

Answers:

Arkady Bukh / Bukh Law Firm, P.C.

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Personal phones not paid for by an employer cannot be taken without a warrant from some law enforcement agency.  If your employer pays any part  of your phone charges and the phone is used in your job, then it is more likely that they can go through the phones without a warrant.  This is tenuous at best though and you and the other employees should consult an attorney about the return of the phones and other questions that arise from this investigation.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

You should be able to get your personal phones back and even possibly get compensation for this: your personal phones should most likely *not* have been confiscated without a warrant if you were not arrested and did not consent to the confiscation, unless you had previously signed something (such as an employment contract) giving your employer the power to take or search your phones, which power they could have delegated to the police. Work phones (phones provided or paid for by work) could be taken from you by your employer, since they belong to the employer, and then given to the police, but not personal phones unless you agreed to let them do this. That's because whether it's a phone or some other personal property, it cannot be searched or confiscated by the police without a warrant or other appropriate court order. If there was no consent and these were indeed personal phones, then you and the other affected persons may wish to jointly (to save costs) retain an attorney to help you.


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