This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion holding that a warrantless search of a suspect's cell phone by local police was a violation of the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights in Riley v. California (June 25, 2014). The decision involved the appeal of two separate cases involving police officers' searches of arrested suspects' cell phones, and subsequent convictions of both suspects.
The Court's ruling limiting police authority to search the cell phones of arrested individuals was unanimous. The Court distinguished cell phones, smartphones, and similar electronic devices from other items like wallets, briefcases, and vehicles which are subject to a warrantless "search incident to arrest" if police can show probable cause that a crime has been committed or that a search is necessary to ensure officer safety. With respect to personal electronic devices, however, the Court held that a warrant is required to search the devices because a suspect has "substantial" privacy interests in his or her digital data that outweigh any government interest in searching the data without a warrant.
While the Court acknowledged that the decision will have some impact on the ability of police to combat crime, the Court noted that police can still access the information pursuant to a warrant, which the Court said can be obtained with "increasing efficiency."
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink