Prisoner has no reasonable expectation of privacy in cell phone and warrantless search of phone is permissible


In 2017, the chief records officer (CRO) at South Mississippi Correctional Institute (SMCI) received a phone call from someone claiming to be a court official. This person requested documents from Demario Walker‘s prison records. The CRO scanned and forwarded them to the e-mail address provided (

The next morning, the CRO received an e-mail from the same address with an uncertified Order that had an electronic signature of Judge Kathy King Jackson which granted motions to produce records, provide legal assistance, and summary Judgement for Demario Walker. Suspicious telephone calls to the Greene County Circuit Court Clerk (GCC) were also received requesting information on Walker’s case.

An investigation ensued and Judge Jackson stated that she did not sign this order. Walker was removed from his cell and a cell phone was discovered hidden in Walker’s belongings. MDOC investigators searched the cell phone and discovered text messages and e-mail accounts linking the cell phone to Walker, as well as fraudulent orders on the cell phone.

They also found the cell phone had been used to call both GCC as well as the office of the CRO at SMCI. Walker was convicted of using a fraudulent court order to defraud the government and sentenced to five years. On appeal, he argued that the warrantless search of the cell phone was unlawful. MCOA affirmed the conviction.


The United States Supreme Court and the Mississippi Supreme Court have recognized that a prisoner has no legitimate subjective expectation of privacy in his prison cell, and thus the Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable searches does not apply in that context.

Regarding Walker’s specific assertion that the warrantless search of the contraband cell phone violated his Fourth Amendment rights, we recognize that the United States Supreme Court in Riley v. California, 573 U.S, 373 (2014), has held that a warrant is required before an officer may lawfully search the information on a cell phone seized incident to an arrest. The Supreme Court also recognized, however, that “case specific exceptions may still justify a warrantless search of a particular phone.” We find that such a “case specific exception” exists in instant case.

Riley concerned the privacy interests of an arrestee in his cell phone—not Walker’s much more limited privacy interest as a prison inmate in the contraband cell phone and its contents at issue here. This distinguishing factor is a “case specific exception” to Riley in the instant case. Walker is incarcerated—his status as a prison inmate holds the most limited privacy rights.

Further, the possession of a cell phone by an inmate is unlawful, Miss. Code Ann. § 47-5-193 (Rev. 2015), thus further diminishing Walker’s expectation of privacy in the contraband cell phone’s contents. We find that the warrantless search of the contraband cell phone did not violate Walker’s rights under the Fourth Amendment or Article III, Section 23 of the Mississippi Constitution, and the trial court did not err in denying Walker’s motion to dismiss and motions to suppress the contents of the cell phone.