Limits on Warrantless Cellphone Searches Considered by Supreme Court

April 30, 2014

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments in two very controversial cases regarding what kind of limits, if any, should be placed on law enforcement’s rights to search cellphones without warrants. The cases that are the focus of this issue – Riley v. California, 13-132 and U.S. v. Wurie, 13-212 – specifically question whether police are violating people’s Fourth Amendment rights by conducting warrantless cellphone searches.

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case that focuses on whether limits should be placed on warrantless cellphone searches. A decision is expected in June.

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case that focuses on whether limits should be placed on warrantless cellphone searches. A decision is expected in June.

While the question of whether warrants are needed to search people’s cellphones at the time of an arrest is one challenging issue of this case, so too are the matters of:

  • How far cellphone searches can go – in other words, can police search through all of a person’s emails, pictures and other data on cellphones when that person has been arrested?
  • How long any information obtained from cellphones can be retained and stored in databases if that information is not used to prosecute the cellphone’s owner.

Prosecution’s Arguments

Arguing for the prosecution and police, California Solicitor General Edward Dumont likened warrantless cellphone searches to the already accepted practice of law enforcement officials searching people’s wallets – including pictures in their wallets – without warrants at the time of an arrest. Because photos in cellphones are in digital form should not make it “constitutionally unreasonable” that the search is still considered to be legal and acceptable, Dumont argued.

Justices hearing this argument countered with statements that pointed out that cellphones can contain thousands of pictures (as opposed to the five or so photos in billfolds) and that data associated with most aspects of people’s lives are also carried on cellphones.

Defense Arguments

Arguing for the defense, Attorney Jeffrey Fisher contended that the warrantless search has been and should only be used to protect the safety of officers making an arrest and to prevent the destruction of evidence. By searching a suspect’s cellphone without a warrant, however, there is a wide range of sensitive and not necessarily pertinent information that law enforcement officials have access to and can keep for as long as they see fit.

A decision in this matter is expected to be issued in June.

Denver and Boulder Metro Area Criminal Defense Lawyer at the Griffin Law Firm

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Regardless of whether you are facing criminal charges for the first time, have prior convictions and/or were on probation or parole at the time of the alleged crime, Christopher Griffin and all of the legal professionals at the Griffin Law Firm will work relentlessly to help you obtain the best possible outcome to your case. In fact, our steadfast dedication to the notion that the accused are innocent until proven guilty means that we will do everything in our power to help you resolve your case in the most favorable and efficient manner possible.

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