Statement of Facts:
This was a consolidated case of David Leon Riley, Petitioner v. California; United States, Petitioner v. Brima Wurie, pertaining similar issues of warrantless cell phone searches incident to arrest.
In the first case, the petitioner David Leon Riley had been stopped by police officers for a traffic violation. The police searched Riley’s incident to an arrest and seized a Smartphone from his pocket. At the same time, while doing an inventory search of the vehicle, police officers found two handguns under the vehicle’s hood, which prompting Riley’s arrest. While under their custody, the police went forth to carry a search on the data stored in the Riley’s phone without a warrant. The search yielded information that linked Riley’s membership to the Lincoln Park gang, and evidence that positively linked him to a gang shooting that was still under investigation. Both the first trial and the retrial used those evidences came from the phone searching. And because of those evidence, Riley was being convicted
In the second case, Brima Wurie is the defendant. His cell phone had been turned over by the police officer when he was been arrested because of involving into a drug trading case. After arriving to the police station for a short period, his phone started to ring and got multiple phone calls from a same person who is named as “my house” in his phone. The police went ahead to access his phone call log and traced the number that is displayed as “my house” at external screen. As a result, they found the number they are suspicious of was from Reily’s apartment. After securing a search warrant for the house, plenty of drugs (including marijuana, drug paraphernalia, 215 grams of crack cocaine,) and other illegal articles, such as firearm and ammunition had been discovered by those police officers. Wurie was been charged for owing those things. Later, Wurie filed a case to suppress the evidence police gotten from his apartment owing to the fact that it had resulted from a warrantless search on his phone. However, the district court had denied the motion and had convicted Wurie. However, on the further appeal, the rejection of the motion had been reversed
There are two issues in this case:
l Were the evidences from Riley’s cell phone acquired through the searching process that is violated his Fourth Amendment right being admitted?
l Are warrantless cell phone searches to arrested people lawful or not?
Holding: Without a warrant, the police may not be able to search digital information on a portable device seized from an individual who has been arrested, whether at the point of arrest or in another location.
l Only if it can be regarded as the specified exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirements of a warrant, a warrantless search is acceptable. The specific exception covers the applicability of warrantless search conducted incident to a lawful arrest.
In this case, such a warrant is only justified by officers’ safety interests or while seeking to prevent potential evidence destruction. Data on a suspect’s cell phone cannot physically harm an officer.
l Warrantless search of cell phones implicates substantial greater risk of intruding upon an individual’s privacy. In this case, digital data is involved, more substantial privacy interest of an individual are at stake. Further owing to the nature in which digital data is stored, search of evidence on cell phones may extend beyond the physical proximity of an arrestee, thus the need for police officers to acquire a search warrant.
In a unanimous decision delivered by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court held that police require warrants to search individual’s cell phones even if it was an incident to a lawful arrest. It was held that warrantless search can only applied following specific exceptions which are; for the purpose of protecting officer safety and preserving evidence or protecting it from being destroyed. It followed the judges argument that the police officer who is performing arrest would not be harm physically by the digital date they found in the phone. The phone itself could be the weapon for arrestee to escape while the date could not. The court also characterized cell phones as microcomputers that are used to store massive private information, thus presenting a case where an arrestee’ right of privacy might be violated. However, the court also held that some warrantless searches might be permitted in case of emergency; where government’s interests are compelling, thus making a search reasonable.
Concurring Opinion Reasoning:
Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr presented a concurring opinion where he concurred in part and in judgment. His opinion was in agreement with the Supreme Court’s decision that law enforcement officers ought to obtain a search warrant before searching and obtaining information from an arrestee’s phone. He argued that the rule used in the predigital era that seemingly supported warrantless search based on the ideas of officer safety and the preservation of evidence, should not be applied in today’s digital era. According to Justice Alito, warrantless searches on cell phones would violate on an individual’s privacy interests. He further observed that law enforcement officers need clear rules on searches incident to arrest. He suggested the need for the legislature to enact laws that will clearly say as to when a cell phone can be searched following an arrest.
I am of the opinion that the Supreme Court made the right decision on this case. No one should be above the law, and a suspect or an arrestee should not be treated like a guilty person. As such, police officers ought to follow the law and obtain a search warrant for cell phone searches unless it there is threat to their safety or possibility of evidence destruction.