U.S. Supreme Court to Law Enforcement: Get a Warrant to Search a Cell phone!

warrant cellphoneRiley v. California and U.S. v. Wurie

By: Joseph Giacalone

Attention Law Enforcement: The U.S. Supreme Court says you need to get a warrant to search cellphones. There are no shortcuts when it comes to search and seizure and the protections of the 4th Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court decided on two cases today that effect the way law enforcement obtains information from cell phones: Riley v. California and U.S. v. Wurie. Any information received, would be inadmissible without the warrant.

In a rare unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has made it perfect clear: law enforcement must obtain a search warrant if it wants to go through a suspect’s cell phone. The Court cited that technology has changed so rapidly and the amount of information available on the phone an individual’s right to privacy with the device is apparent.

The searching of cell phones will not fall under the search warrant exception to the Fourth Amendment: Search Incidental to Lawful Arrest (SILA). SILA is used by the police to remove weapons, contraband and other items that may facilitate escape at the time of arrest by removing items from the person, wherever they may be. One may make an argument to use the Emergency Exception to the Search Warrant, but not in all cases. Even then, it would be wise to contact the riding assistant district attorney (ADA) to commence the process before reaching out to the cellphone carrier.

Law enforcement has to now be mindful that Apps and programs used to wipe data from the phone remotely are an immediate threat to potential evidence. Police executives must enact proper techniques, policies and procedures to prevent the loss of critical evidence. In addition, investigators should maintain a current list of cellphone carriers and their law enforcement contact personnel for those emergency incidents.

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About the Author:

Joe Giacalone is a retired NYPD Sergeant, current Adjunct Professor, media contributor and internationally recognized policing expert. Joe has been on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business News, CBS, NBC, ABC, The Today Show, Good Morning America and many more.