A warrantless search? Of course that should be unconstitutional. We have been taught since we were children that the police may not search you or your home without a warrant. The group of us that went to law school, and some who did not, understand there are exceptions to the warrant requirement, but only in exigent circumstances. But a warrantless cell phone search? In this day and age, where our whole lives are stored on a tiny device (often multiple devices) we carry with us everywhere? That seems outlandish. But the issue only presented itself to the Supreme Court last term in Riley v. California, and the court held the police cannot search your cell phone, after you have been arrested, without first obtaining a warrant.
In reaching that decision, and in response to the Justice Department’s Argument, the Chief Justice noted how modern cell phones “implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse.” It is more likely than not an individual’s entire life is stored on a cell phone including access to sensitive financial and personal information. When the police searched the pockets of an arrestee or his flip phone circa 2005, it was highly unlikely they would find the individuals’ bank statements for the past five years, but today it is more likely than not the police could access that information if they have immediate unrestricted access to an arrestee’s cell phone. This raises serious privacy concerns, as firmly noted by the Supreme Court.
The June 2014 ruling requires police to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause the arrestee committed a crime and the cell phone has a link to that crime such that a search is justified. The court found the individual, digital privacy concerns raised by mass use of the “smart phone” outweigh the state’s interest in protecting the public because (1) requiring a warrant to search an arrestee’s cell phone does not threaten the safety of the arresting officer, and (2) possible destruction of evidence on the cell phone is not a compelling reason sufficient enough to justify a warrantless search under the Fourth Amendment.
If you have been charged with a crime or if you have any questions or comments about the new cell phone law promulgated in Riley v. California, contact the Law Offices of Laura J. Morask.