D.R.I.: Removing back cover of cell phone to see the serial number not unreasonable during inventory

Defendant was in a car that was stopped for overtinting, and that led to a tow and inventory. The police searched for and obtained the serial numbers of four cell phones found during the inventory. They were not otherwise searched, and the next day they were returned to the owner. The next day, the police got a search warrant for the phones which was with probable cause. The removal of the back cover to get the serial numbers was not an unreasonable search. United States v. Andrade, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11556 (D.R.I. Jan. 20, 2022):

Police removed the back covers of the cell phones during the seizure to find the serial numbers and apply for another search warrant. Mr. Johnson challenges the removals as an illegal warrantless search. His challenge fails because law enforcement already legally had the devices following the inventory search and the law does not require a warrant when “police did not search digital content within the phone, but rather checked the phone for its serial number, written in a space behind the battery pack.” Ward v. Lee, No. 19-cv-03986 (KAM), 2020 WL 6784195, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 18, 2020), appeal filed (2d Cir. Jan. 5, 2021) (No. 21-7); see also, e.g., United States v. Pacheco, No. 11-CR-121-A, 2015 WL 3402832, at *6 (W.D.N.Y. May 27, 2015) (law enforcement can legally enter phone without a search warrant to view identification numbers so long as purpose is not to search for digital data).

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