November 22, 2017

How does today’s Supreme Court ruling effect you and your cellphone

Supreme Court Protects Cell Phones

cellphone

Question: May police, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested?

 
In April 2014, the Supreme Court heard two fact patterns that raised this common question:

1st Case: Police searching Riley incident to the arrest seized a cell phone from Riley’s pants pocket. The Officer noticed the repeated use of a term associated with a street gang, a second officer specializing in gangs viewed the phone. Based in part on photographs and videos that the detective found, the State charged Riley in connection with a shooting that had occurred a few weeks earlier and sought an enhanced sentence based on Riley’s gang membership

2nd Case: Officers seized a cell phone from Wurie’s person and noticed that the phone was receiving multiple calls from a source identified as “my house” on its external screen. The officers opened the phone, accessed its call log, determined the number associated with the “my house” label, and traced that number to what they suspected was Wurie’s apartment. They secured a search warrant and found drugs, a firearm and ammunition, and cash in the ensuing search. Wurie was then charged with drug and firearm offenses.

Answer: And on June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States Held: The police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested.

Legal Advice: Be careful what you put in your phone because the Court’s holding is not that the information on a cell phone is immune from search; it is that a warrant is generally required before a search and police can use other information (just not digital content from your phone) to seek a warrant to view the contents of your phone which may prove a treasure trove of evidence for the Prosecution.