Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases that would allow law enforcement officers to search a suspect’s cell phone without a warrant during a lawful arrest.
A California case, Riley v. California (13-132), involves a man whose car was originally pulled over due to expired tags. Police found loaded weapons in his vehicle and arrested David Riley. When they searched his cell phone, they found photos and videos linking him to a gang shooting. The link to the gang led to Riley receiving an extended sentence.
The second case, United States v. Wurie (13-212), involves the arrest of a Boston drug dealer. After his arrest, Brima Wurie’s cell phone received multiple calls from a certain number. The police retrieved the number and found an address that led to some crack cocaine. He was sentenced to over 20 years in prison. But he won an appeal on the basis that the cell phone information should be suppressed.
The Department of Justice wants to make sure law enforcement officers the ability to do their jobs. Officers may be able to obtain evidence about a case through pictures, text messages, emails, videos and phone numbers by being able to immediately look through a suspect’s phone. Suspects could use a kill switch or some other device to wipe the phone’s data before officers can obtain a warrant to search through it.
The defendants in these cases feel that smartphones are small computers that contain a tremendous amount of personal information. Lawyers feel this is an invasion of privacy and a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures”.
The rulings are expected in June.