Searches and Seizures Supreme Court Revisits Fourth Amendment

Searches and Seizures

Supreme Court Revisits Fourth Amendment 

The United States Supreme Court recently breathed a bit more life into the otherwise oxygen-starved Fourth Amendment, which promises freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

Warrants are required for cell phone searches

In Riley v. California, the Court held that before the police search the cell phone of someone they have just arrested, they must first get a warrant.

Until now, here is how a scenario in which a cell phone is confiscated during an arrest played out:

  1. First, the police would arrest someone, for example, for delivering drugs.
  2. When the police arrest the person, they seize his cell phone.
  3. This cell phone is then searched for incriminatory evidence, such as text messages or recent phone calls.

Sometimes, during this process, police would find evidence of additional, unrelated crimes.  For example, if the person who was arrested on a state or federal drug charge is caught with child pornography on his cell phone, that would be indicative of a completely separate charge.

Before the Riley v. California case, the police were able to use the incriminating evidence found in the phone against the person at trial.

Not anymore.

According to Riley v. California, we have a privacy interest in our cell phones. Because of this, the unreasonable search and seizure of the device is prohibited. As a result, before police can confiscate the device, examine it, and bring its contents to trial as evidence, they must first obtain a search warrant.