Does the Fourth Amendment permit police officers to perform a warrantless search of an individual’s cell phone confiscated at the time of an arrest?
United States Supreme Court oral argument to be held April 29, 2014, in the case of Riley v. California
In August 2009, David Riley was pulled over in San Diego, California for having expired tags on his car and a suspended driver’s license. As per police department policy, the officer impounded Riley’s car and conducted a warrantless search of the car. The officer found two handguns that were later linked to a shooting that had taken place a few weeks prior. During the arrest, the officers confiscated and rummaged through the data on Riley’s smartphone without a warrant.
Some of the data on the phone linked Riley to gang activity and the shooting and was entered into evidence at the trial, where Riley was convicted on three charges.
Riley argues that allowing police officers to search through data on his cell phone without a warrant is an unacceptable intrusion on personal privacy. California argues that police officers need to be able to confiscate cell phones without first obtaining a warrant for safety reasons and to prevent destruction of evidence. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will affect the balance between those two concerns and the scope of Fourth Amendment protection available to personal technology.