The United States Supreme Court recently issued a decision regarding cell phones and when police are permitted to search them. The case involved two cases, one from Boston (U.S. v. Wurie), the other from San Diego (Riley v. California). In U.S. v. Wurie, the police had arrested a suspect and seized his cell phone. The man's cell phone rang and police used the number that called in and traced the number to an address. At the residence, they located weapons and drugs. The evidence was eventually suppressed because the police did not have a warrant to search the man's cell phone.
In Riley v. California, the police had arrested a suspect for firearms and seized his cell phone. The police looked at the man's phone and found evidence that he was involved in an unrelated shooting. The police did not have a warrant to search the man's cell phone at the time of the search. The evidence in his case was not suppressed and the man was convicted.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that warrantless searches of cell phones was unconstitutional and in violation of the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In making this decision, the Court determined that cell phones are more than just phones and contain a huge amount of information including e-mails, photographs, GPS, call logs, etc. In addition, cell phones can be used to access information stored in other places, such as the cloud. Based on the ruling, police will need to obtain warrants to search arrestees' cell phones in most cases. The U.S. Supreme Court did allow for an exception to the warrant rule in cases of exigency (emergency) or to prevent the destruction of evidence. The issue as to what constitutes an exigency remains open.
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