Arizona Supreme Court: Ruling allows warrantless search of probationer’s cellphone

An Arizona Supreme Court decision in a privacy rights case from Pima County says authorities could legally conduct a warrantless search of the cellphone of a man who was on felony probation.

The court’s unanimous decision on May 22 overturned a trial judge’s ruling that prosecutors could not present evidence that a probation surveillance officer obtained from the man’s phone.

The surveillance officer’ search of probationer Bryan Lietzau’s phone was part of an investigation that led to charges accusing Lietzau of sexual conduct with a minor.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that people have broad expectations of privacy concerning their cellphones and that authorities generally need a warrant to search them.

But the Arizona high court ruled that probationers have a diminished expectation of privacy and that the warrantless search of Lietzau’s cellphone was reasonably necessary to help determine whether he was complying with probation terms from a previous conviction for aggravated harassment.