Cell Phone Searches Require Search Warrants

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in Riley v. California that police officers could not search the contents of the wireless phone of someone who had been arrested without first obtaining a search warrant. The Court recognized implicitly that these phones carry a vast amount of data not unlike a computer in someone’s home.

Judge Eugene Hyman

Judge Eugene Hyman

Judge Hyman notes the rarity of a unanimous decision by the Court. Law enforcement officers have suggested that the decision does not provide the guidance they would like to have, but Judge Hyman suggests that this will not be a real problem in an emergency situation. “If law enforcement really thinks they’re in an awkward situation [such as in a kidnapping or terrorist situation], [they will] go forward and not worry about whether [the evidence] is in or out down the road. [They will] search the phone. And they should.”

Judge Hyman notes that there may be a law enforcement concern that people would try to remotely erase the contents of a phone that had been seized. He suggests that the phone could be placed in a special bag to prevent this kind of outcome. Also, getting a search warrant is not very difficult. An oral search warrant may be a possibility in the right circumstances.

The Court weighed inconvenience against privacy and ruled for privacy in this case. Also, this case did not overrule any previous decisions on search and seizure.

Honorable Judge Eugene Hyman has received numerous awards and recognition for his work with families and children and has appeared on numerous television news shows. For more information, visit www.judgehyman.com. He is also a featured commentator on The Family Law Channel and The Legal Broadcast Network. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.