Thursday, June 26, 2014
Bang, Zoom, Straight to the Moon: Supreme Court Finds Warrants Generally Needed Before Searching Cell Phones
In yesterday's opinion in Riley v. California, the Supreme Court found in a unanimous opinion that police officers cannot routinely search digital information on arrestees' cell phones without first procuring a search warrant. I wrote about the justification for and proper scope of a search incident to a lawful arrest (SILA) in my article, Stranger Than Dictum: Why Arizona v. Gant Compels the Conclusion that Suspicionless Buie Searches Incident to Lawful Arrests are Unconstitutional. In Riley, the Court found that neither of the justifications for a SILA -- (1) preventing the destruction of evidence; and (2) preventing the arrestee from accessing a weapon -- applied to the search of a cell phone. The Court also found that the special justifications (found in Gant) that allow for broader searches of vehicles do not apply to cell phones. And while the State had tried to analogize searches of cell phones to searches of cigarette packs, wallets, and other items found in arrestees' pockets, the Court concluded: "That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon."