Are the contents of your phone protected? The Supreme Court will soon rule.

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument for two very important set of cases on April 29, 2014 – Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie.  These cases will have a very large impact on your everyday life – and you probably haven’t even heard about them.

Oral argument focused on the police’s right to search a cell phone.  The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that police get a warrant to search the property of an individual.  This requires that police go to a detached and neutral judicial officer, present probable cause for the search and receive a specific warrant.  Over the years, the Court has carved exceptions to this requirement – which essentially allow the police to search certain types of property without a warrant.  Until now, the Court had not addressed whether a person’s cell phone fit into an exceptions.

In the companion cases of Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, the Justices looked at whether police need to obtain a warrant to search the content of a cell phone that is seized from a person who is arrested.  In Riley, the defendant was arrested for a concealed weapons violation.  When he was arrested his phone was seized, and was searched some time later.  The phone led to evidence that he was involved in a gang shooting a few weeks before.  In Wurie, the defendant was arrested for distribution of drugs.  While at the police station his phone kept ringing from a contact known as “my house”.  Thinking that was the dealer’s stash house, the police took the information from the phone and used it to search the house.

The Justices will decide whether to make a bright line rule, such as “police can search a phone of any one arrested without a warrant” as California has argued for, or a ruling that “police are required to gain a warrant before searching the content of the phone” or perhaps a ruling somewhere in between.

This ruling will have a large impact on our society, as the changing landscape of how the Constitution is going to treat technology continues to evolve.

To see the transcripts of oral argument,

If you have any questions over your Fourth Amendment rights or require criminal representation, please contact one of our criminal lawyers at Winslow & McCurry at (804) 423.1382.