University City

UNC Charlotte panel discussion: Can police search your cell phone?

Nearly every student has a cellphone, but how many know what their legal rights to keep that phone private during an encounter with police?

During UNC Charlotte’s Constitution Day panel discussion, “Can the Police Search Your Cell Phone?” students and community members are invited to learn more about the legal precedents in place in an age of digital evidence, said event host Kathleen Nicolaides.

Nicolaides, a senior lecturer in criminal justice and criminology and a former federal prosecutor, has helped organize the annual Constitution Day panel since its inaugural year in 2005. She said the event helps recognize the federal Constitution Day, or Citizenship Day, Sept. 17.

In the decade she’s been helping organize the event – sponsored by UNCC’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, the Pre-law Society and the Division for Academic Affairs – finding topics both relevant and interesting to students has been a challenge, Nicolaides said.

“Students hear the word ‘Constitution’ and think of an old, dusty document,” she said. “(Students) think it’s not relevant, but it is.”

The 2014 panel will focus on the Fourth Amendment and recent decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding search and seizure of cellphones and other digital evidence, Nicolaides said.

Charlotte School of Law professor Scott Broyes, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, will be part of the panel. So will Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Detective Brent Foushee, a 26-year veteran of the department who has also served as an adjunct faculty member in UNCC’s Criminal Justice and Criminology Department.

Nicolaides said both speakers’ real-world experience can help make the subject relatable for students and the public.

“We’re hoping more of a connection can be made on the relevancy of the Fourth Amendment to everybody,” she said.

New to the event this year will be four student moderators who will represent various organizations on campus, Nicolaides said.

Christopher Estrada, 25, a UNCC senior and one of the student moderators, is president of the criminal justice honor society Alpha Phi Sigma.

While many students know what’s happening with the NFL scandal involving Ray Rice and domestic violence, fewer keep up with larger national issues that directly affect them, Estrada said.

“When I heard we were doing this, I was really excited because I felt it really will be beneficial to students once they leave UNCC,” Estrada said.

Estrada has attended Constitution Day previously and said this year’s topic is particularly interesting and timely.

“I think we’ll get the interest,” Estrada said of student attendance. “A lot of people I’ve talked to didn’t know that’s what (this year’s panel) would be about. (But) they realize it really is important.”

Shayleen Morris, 27 – also a UNCC senior, and president of the university’s Pre-law Society – is another student moderator. She said the topic has been “eye-opening” for the students she’s talked to.

“Cellphones are everywhere. All your personal information is on there: your contacts, credit card info,” Morris said. “It could be incriminating.

“There’s the assumption … you just wouldn’t say ‘no’ to police,” she said. “It’s important to know what law enforcement can do and what (the public’s) rights are.”

Other student moderators are Casey Aldridge, who will represent the Levine Scholars Program, and Brittany Nunn, president of the Business Honors Program.

Morris said she’s looking forward to the question-and-answer period, particularly to questions from students outside the political science, pre-law or criminal justice fields.

There also will be discussion on the legal questions unanswered, such as what digital devices – computers, cellphones – police and federal agents can have access to during emergencies such as a terror event, Nicolaides said.

Past Constitution Day topics have included a look at the 2006 case in which three Duke lacrosse players were falsely accused of rape, National Security versus personal privacy and the appointment of Supreme Court justices.

Panelists have been guests on WFAE’s (90.7 FM) “Charlotte Talks” news program on occasion, as a way to further engage the larger community, Nicolaides said. Between students and community members, past events have drawn close to 400 attendees.