Cases involving cell phone searches go before Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will look at the San Diego case of David Riley, who was pulled over in 2009 for driving with an expired license. After finding guns in his car, police searched Riley’s phone and found evidence that helped lead to a conviction on attempted murder charges. A landmark Supreme Court case poses an important question about our privacy: are cell phones a critical tool for criminals, or are they an American’s virtual home that should be protected under the 4th Amendment?

“90% of Americans today have cell phones,” stated mediator Jonathan Brenner, ESQ. Of Judicate West. “58% of Americans have smart phones and these smart phones, again, contain so much information that, to allow the police to look at that information without a warrant, opens people up to tremendous invasive privacy issues.”

The Obama Administration – and California – are defending the searches, saying cell phones are no different from anything else a person may have on them when arrested.

“So the police would argue in this day and age we need access to those phones and we need it quickly, we can’t wait because that data can be wiped off, it can be wiped off remotely.”

In the early 1970’s, the Supreme Court carved out exceptions for officers dealing with people they’ve arrested; it was designed to give them protection by allowing them to look for concealed weapons and prevent the destruction of evidence. Alex Kreit, a criminal law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, says the exceptions weren’t a problem until technology advanced.

“This is a really tough one, because there are so many different ways it could come out. They could hold that you need a warrant every time you want to search a phone. They could say you don’t need a warrant to search it for fifteen minutes, but after that, you need a warrant. They could say you don’t need a warrant for a flip phone, but you do for a smart phone.”

And Professor Kreit says this ruling could have even greater implications down the road.

“How is the law going to treat a situation where you e-mail and that information is given over your Gmail? Can Gmail just give it over to the government without a warrant for that? This case is only about the cell phones, but what the court says here may tell us about what’s to come for other technologies in the future.”

In regards to the case of David Riley, Jonathan Brenner says the court could order a lower court to either retry Riley or make some other evidentiary ruling that could impact the case, the trial or his sentence. The Supreme Court is expected to have a decision by late June.

Categories: KUSI