Texas Court of Appeals holds that search of contraband cell phone in halfway house was reasonable.

After completing a federal military prison sentence for a sex offense, the defendant was released to a halfway house. The rules at the house prohibit the possession of unauthorized mobile phones and grant staff the right to search residents’ personal “belongings.” The Defendanr was found in possession of a contraband mobile phone. Staff confiscated the phone and did a “cursory review” of its contents, where they found child pornography. Search warrants were issued after federal and state law enforcement personnel viewed the contents of the phone and confirmed it contained images of child pornography. The defendant was possession of child pornography in State court.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing that the search of his phone’s contents violated his Fourth Amendment protections because it was performed before a warrant issued and he did not otherwise consent to the search.

The appellate court upheld the denial of the motion, holding that a sex-offender parolee in possession of a contraband mobile phone at a half-way house that prohibited its possession did not have a subjective expectation of privacy in his phone’s contents. The Defendant’s argument that the halfway house notified him only that any unauthorized mobile phone would be confiscated and that he would be disciplined if he violated the phone policy, not that his phone would be searched without a valid warrant. The Court decided that the context of the search in a halfway house under these conditions greatly diminishes the privacy interest he held in the content of his mobile phone despite the Supreme Court’s holding regarding cell phone privacy in Riley. Therefore, a cell phone was a belonging subject to being searched.

The case is Howard v. State, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 9616, 2018 WL 6175117 (Ct. App. TX, 1st Dist.) November 27, 2018.

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