Cell Phones, 4th Amendement, and Riley v. California

On Wednesday June 25, 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers generally must obtain a warrant before they can search the cellphone of an arrested suspect. Ruling on two cases from California and Massachusetts, the justices balanced the right to privacy versus the need to investigate crimes and the protect law enforcement officers. In a unanimous 9-0 ruling the right to privacy prevailed.

View the Opinion Riley v. California here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-132_8l9c.pdf

In the Opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Modern cell Phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by a search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse.” Roberts further stated that police can still examine “the physical aspects of the phone to ensure that it will not be used as a weapon.” But once the phone is secured, “data on the phone can endanger no one.”

Privacy rights are deeply rooted in history and tradition and expressly stated in the 4th Amendment. In comparing cell phones to items historically protected by privacy rights Roberts stated, “Most people cannot lug around every piece of mail they have received for the past several months, every picture they have taken, or every book or article they have read—nor would they have any reason to attempt to do so. And if they did, they would have to drag behind them a trunk of the sort held to require a search warrant in Chadwick, supra, rather than a container the size of the cigarette package in Robinson.”

This ruling greatly increases privacy rights and will limit law enforcement agencies’ policing tools.