Supreme Court Gives Cell Phones Constitutional Protection

"The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided on Wednesday, June 25th, that the contents of your cell phone are worthy of protection under the Fourth Amendment from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. The Court was clear that if the government wants to search your phone, it must first obtain a warrant. In ruling against an Obama administration position, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court finding that merely because a person might have a cell phone on them at the time they are detained does not give the authorities the ability to search the contents of the phone. Chief Justice Roberts distinguished cell phones from other devices calling it "not just another technological convenience[.]" Cell phones contain vast amounts of personal information which is no less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection. The Court was very clear in its expectations of law enforcement going forward: "Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple - get a warrant[.]"

The Court's decision related to one David Riley who was stopped in San Diego for driving with an expired license. The search of his vehicle revealed that he was carrying guns for which he was arrested for carrying concealed weapons. The important part of the decision related to the police's subsequent search of Mr. Riley's cellphone from which they discovered incriminating pictures and video's connecting him with purportedly gang-related crimes.

As with most laws, there are exceptions and this case is no different. The Court noted that some searches were appropriate under extreme circumstances without the authorities having first obtained a warrant such as in kidnapping cases or imminent threats such as a bomb. Those circumstances are so severe that a subsequent evaluation by a court would provide sufficient constitutional protection. Otherwise, a warrant is required. Chief Justice Roberts emphasized that warrants are an important constitution requirement and not merely an inconvenience."

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