Supreme Court oral arguments over cell phone searches heard

In the case of David Riley – who was stopped in San Diego in 2009 for an expired license – prosecutors used video and photos found on Riley’s smart phone to convict him of attempted murder charges. The 4th Amendment is center stage at the Supreme Court. In the case of David Leon Riley v. The State of California, Justices are being asked to decide if police have the right to look at a cell phone during an arrest without a warrant.

“The problem with this is that the 4th Amendment is predicated upon the British rule of general warrants where the British could go to a citizens home, search their homes and search their papers without a warrant,” explained mediator Jonathan Brenner, ESQ. of Judicate West. “That was why the founding fathers drafted the 4th Amendment.”

And Tuesday, arguments were presented that cell phones are like our virtual homes. In Riley’s trial, it was evidence on his cell phone – obtained without a warrant – that helped convict him on attempted murder charges. When Justices asked if police could have obtained a warrant, the petitioner on behalf of Riley said police had plenty of time to do so, but that didn’t excuse the absence of a warrant, saying:

“this court has said – time and time again – that the mere fact the police could have gotten a warrant but didn’t, does not excuse a 4th Amendment violation.”

But the state argues an arrest limits the privacy interest of that person and anything you may choose to carry – an issue Justice Kagan seemed to be concerned with, asking:

“in other words, one has to keep one’s cell phone at home to have an expectation of privacy in it?”

The sentiment seemed to be shared by Justices Sotomayer and Ginsberg, questioning the extent of the state’s theory: would their searched then expand to iPads, computers or tablets? The state says:

“our theory extends to objects that are on the person or immediately associated with, for instance in a purse. It doesn’t necessarily extend to things that are sitting nearby.”

Riley’s San Diego defense attorney Patrick Ford – who attended the oral arguments – says he hopes the Justices’ ruling will lead to a new trial.

“We’re hoping that the court will find there was a 4th Amendment violation, that there was a bad search that was committed in the case that, because the evidence from the bad search contributed to the conviction, that a new trial will be required.”

David Riley is currently serving a prison time for his conviction on attempted murder and other charges. If the court does grant him another trial, the cell phone evidence would be excluded. The Supreme Court is expected to reach its decision in June.

Categories: KUSI