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Local opinions divided on cellphone searches 

BY ANDREA MOOREamoore@paducahsun.com

Law enforcement authorities and defense lawyers in western Kentucky line up on opposite sides in the debate over whether police should be allowed to conduct a warrantless search of a cellphone. 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in two cases that dealt with the warrantless search of defendants' cellphones.  The Justice Department is arguing that searches without a warrant do not violate defendants' Fourth Amendment privacy rights. 

An emergency where cellphone information could save someone's life is a good example of why it would be beneficial to not require police to obtain a search warrant, Mayfield Detective Sgt. Mark Watkins said.

He said a search without a warrant could help preserve evidence in some situations.  

"It is becoming more and more common that defendants or friends of defendants will send kill codes to their cellphones that wipe the phone out clean," Watkins said. "At that point all evidence is destroyed."

McCracken Commonwealth Attorney Dan Boaz believes that warrantless cellphone searches can help expedite many cases.

"A ruling in favor of warrantless cellphone searches would definitely help in cases where time is of the essence and drug cases," said Boaz.

However, some defense attorneys say privacy rights are at stake.  

Paducah attorney Will Kautz hopes the court will rule that warrants are required before the police can search cellphones.  

"A cellphone has the ability to store incredible amounts of information," said Kautz. "Even if I were still a prosecutor, I would be hopeful the court would rule in favor of our privacy." 

According to Paducah Police Detective Justin Crowell, a case that involves imminent danger to a child would be a situation where not having to get a warrant to search a cellphone could be critically important.

However, Crowell said as long as there is any doubt about the legality of a cellphone search, the department will follow the protocol now in place and request a warrant.

"If the Supreme Court does allow warrantless searches of cellphones, we will look at it on a case by case basis," said Crowell. 

Contact Andrea Moore, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8684.

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