On June 25, 2014, the United States Supreme Court, in the cases of Riley v. California, 13-132 and U.S. v. Wurie, 13-212, released a landmark ruling limiting the ability of police officers to search a suspect’s cellphone. The court found that, unless it’s an emergency situation, Fourth Amendment of the Constitution — which prohibits unreasonable searches — protects the data carried in mobile phones.

The 9-0 decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who argued that modern cellphones — including smartphones and older feature phones — are too interconnected to the personal lives of Americans to be considered anything but a major element protected by the Fourth Amendment.

“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.

“Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple,” Roberts said. “Get a warrant.”

“Cell phones differ in both quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be carried on an arrestee’s person. Notably, modern cell phones have an immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and generally constituted only a narrow intrusion on privacy. But cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos,” Justice Roberts wrote. “A decade ago officers might have occasionally stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90 percent of American adults who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives.”

This landmark decision is a great step forward in protecting privacy rights.

— Kassius O. Benson is Senior Counsel at Kassius Benson Law, P.A., where we have extensive experience in defending Fourth Amendment claims.  Contact us at (612) 333-2755  if you have any legal issue involving illegal searches and seizures.

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