The Supremes granted cert. today in a case of importance to military justice practitioners.

Lyle Dennison at SCOTUSBlogs BLUF:

Moving into another conflict between technology and privacy, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday afternoon to rule on police authority to search the contents of a cellphone they take from an individual they have arrested.  The Court accepted for review a state case and a federal case, involving differing versions of hand-held telephone capacity.

This is a regular happening for clients who are interviewed by military law enforcement.  For good reasons investigators are taking their phones.  (I wish they’d get the phone data, texts, and emails from the CW as well.)  Anyway, in Riley v. California, the QP is:

Whether evidence admitted at petitioner’s trial was obtained in a search of petition’s cell phone that violated petitioner’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Jeffrey Fisher of Crawford fame appears to be lead counsel.  The other case is United States v. Wurie (QP:  Whether the Fourth Amendment permits the police, without obtaining a warrant, to review the call log of a cellphone found on a person who has been lawfully arrested.).

For the techies —

During the arrest, Officer Dunnigan seized petitioner’s cell phone from his person. The phone was a Samsung Instinct M800 “smartphone” – a touch-screen device designed to compete with Apple’s iPhone, capable of accessing the internet, capturing photos and videos, and storing both voice and text messages, among other functions.

Riley’s petition notes:

The struggle to apply this Court’s precedent to the unique technological capabilities of cell phones has divided federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort over whether police officers may search the digital contents of a cell phone incident to arrest.  At least six courts hold that the Fourth Amendment permits such searches, while at least three others hold that it does not.

The United States, petitioner in Wurie also notes the split of authority.

2 Responses to “In the Supremes”

  1. Advocaat says:

    Absent an exigent circumstance (imminent loss of life, not the imminent smoking of a joint), the police have no business scrolling through phones without a warrant (and how hard would that have been?).  Neither officer safety nor destruction of evidence are at issue once phone and owner are in state control.  I may have missed the facts re password protection when I skimmed the briefs; that would certainly bolster the reasonable expectation of privacy.  I’ll be watching this case…on my phone, of course.

  2. Neutron73 says:

    Police have no business or right to scroll through your phone absent a warrant or exigent circumstances, as Advocaat says.  I can’t see any justification for a blanket “you are arrested for smoking dope.  Give me your phone so I can see who you’ve contacted” without a warrant to do so.  That’s like someone getting pulled over and taken into custody for speeding and they find a laptop in the car during inventory, and decide to send it to IT for exploitation.