Today, June 25, the Supreme Court made a unanimous ruling that cellphone data will be sacrosanct from police searches, until a search warrant is issued. Pretty sure most Americans are cheering about this court decision strongly upholding citizen the right to privacy and freedom from arbitrary invasions. So who challenged this idea in the first place? Defendants who had been charged for crimes related to police scouring through their cellphone data that lead to their convictions.
The defendants argued that cellphones searches infringed upon their Fourth Amendment rights to privacy and unreasonable searches.
In the case of Riley vs California, case No. 13-132, Riley had been stopped for a traffic violation where his phone was confiscated by police during a routine search and later determined there was evidence to convict him for a murder that took place a week earlier, which was confirmed by the California Court of Appeals. Another case the Supreme Court looked upon before ruling is case No. 13-212. Wurie had been arrested by police who thought he was involved in a drug deal. Once Wurie was in detention at the police station they took his phone, answered an incoming phone call, and traced that number to an apartment — which they obtained a search warrant for and found drugs, firearms and ammunition, according to court documents. Wurie was also convicted.
Police officers normally empty a suspect’s pockets to make sure there aren’t items that could place the officer in danger, and to preserve possible evidence. But recently cases involved police obtaining information by searching a suspect cellphone data. The Supreme Court today decided that the data inside the cellphone would not place a police officer’s safety at risk, and in order to further investigate the data they will need to obtain a search warrant. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that cellphones today can hold a person’s “privacies of life,” and agreed that police officers need to get a warrant to further investigate the data within a confiscated phone.
However, the court did note in its findings that their ruling doesn’t leave out the fact there will be serious circumstances, which police in these extraordinary occasions can move forward with searching cellphone data without a warrant, and the search would later be examined by the court.
Beyond the photos, emails, and texts that could be mined for evidence in a crime, the devices can also be used to research pings that are recorded from antennas used to carry a cellphone signal. This could also help police determine if a suspect was at the scene of a crime.
For those professional criminals who like to keep photos of themselves: stealing cars, robbing houses, taking selfies with stolen items in the background, or not deleting texts talking about committing a crime as a keepsake (for some stupid reason); the new cellphone search warrant ruling doesn’t mean you can’t get caught, it’s a matter of when. Roberts also said with today’s technology police can obtain a cellphone warrant within minutes of an arrest, according to Pennlive.com.