Pretty soon, cell phones could be searched without a warrant. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide if cell phones and smart phones could be searched by police. They will test two cases which will further explore privacy and technology concerns, which are U.S. v. Wurie and Riley v. California. The cases could be heard in April then a decision will be made in June. The two cases in question involves minor traffic stops and drug infractions, which turned into felony convictions.
The two cases for examination will help the Supreme Court decide if cell phones could be searched without a warrant. As they analyze the two cases, there are circumstances to consider: (1) examining the cases will allow the Supreme Court entry into the world of cell phones and smart phones, which states from the West coast to the South are divided over the issue; and (2) the cases could be the beginning of far-reaching inquiries involving the National Security Agency’s phone and computer inspection methods. Within the last few years, the Supreme Court has ruled for police officers to use GPS tracking devices and thermal imaging to track down criminals. In addition to cell phone searches, another issue the Supreme Court must contemplate is whether police can obtain information about a person’s location from his or her cell phone carrier without a warrant.
U.S. v. Wurie
In 2007, Brima Wurie was arrested for possession and distributing crack cocaine. In the interim, police seized two cell phones belonging to Wurie. They noticed incoming calls from “my house” kept appearing on one cell phone, so the police further searched Wurie’s phone for clues. By searching the cell phone and tracing the incoming phone number, the police entered into a woman’s apartment with a warrant and found more drugs and firearms. After being prosecuted for drug and firearm possession, Wurie filed a motion to conceal the evidence obtained through the prohibition to search his cell phone. The district court denied the motion, stating it was reasonable for the police to search his cell phones.
Riley v. California
On August 2, 2009, David Leon Riley was involved in a shooting with a rival gang member. Police didn’t catch up with him until August 22, 2009, when they stopped Riley for driving with an expired registration tag. Police impounded the vehicle and searched it, in which they found loaded guns. After arresting Riley, the police searched his smart phone and found evidence of his involvement with a gang. They also found information about other gang members on Riley’s smart phone. Riley appealed based on his right to privacy, but the court dismissed it stating the police had justifiable reasons for searching through Riley’s smart phone.
Smartphones and cell phones contain a person’s private and intimate information, from text messages to pictures. As the Supreme Court reach a consensus involving privacy rights and technology, it is a possibility for them to rule that cell phones could be searched without a warrant. State courts in the U.S. are divided; many feel searching a person’s cell phone without a warrant is an encroachment of the person’s Fourth Amendment right.
By Bridget Cunningham
Harvard Law Review