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If someone snoops in my phone, finds evidence of a crime, and calls the cops, can I be prosecuted?


Yes, you can. A couple left their cell phone at a Walmart store in Cape Coral, Florida. The phone contained hundreds of images of child pornography. A Walmart employee found the phone and agreed to return it to the couple. But first, she looked at the contents of the phone (which was not password protected) and discovered the child porn; then, she turned the phone over to the police. The store employee did not meet the couple to return their phone as she had agreed to. And the couple didn't pursue it. They did not ask for Walmart's assistance in getting their phone back, and did not file a police report. What they did was abandon their phone. This was a legal mistake.

It was a mistake because, once they abandoned their legal interest in the property (the cell phone), they lost standing to challenge the police's 23 day delay in obtaining a search warrant to search the phone's contents. The couple were indicted and charged with possession of child pornography. Their lawyer moved to suppress (throw out) the evidence contained in the cell phone, arguing that the police delay in obtaining a search warrant for the phone was improper. But the 11th. Circuit Court Of Appeals held, in U.S. v. Johnson and Sparks, that when Johnson and Sparks abandoned the cellphone, they lost their possesory interest in the phone, and thus their Fourth Amendments right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures no longer applied.

Johnson was sentenced to a whopping 600 months imprisonment (that's 50 years!) and Sparks to a mere 360 months (30 years).

Lesson Learned:

The Supreme Court of the United States decided, in Smallwood v. Florida, that if the police want to search the contents of your cell phone, they need either your consent or a search warrant to do so. Lesson number one, you should never, under any circumstances, give the police permission or consent to search the contents of your cell phone. Make them get a search warrant. But here, it didn't matter, because the two, realizing there was incriminating evidence contained in their phone, abandoned it. And when they did that, they lost their right to challenge the improper search. Lesson number two, cell phones sometimes go missing. Always make sure your phone is password protected. If the phone in this case was password protected, the employee never would have been able to view the images contained in it. Lesson number three, child pornography is an extremely serious crime, with penalties to match. And the Feds are doing everything in their power to go after those they suspect of downloading child porn; don't expect any Court anywhere to give you a break if you're involved in this activity.

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