U.S. Supreme Court rules on cellphone privacy case

The U.S. Supreme Court held that police officers must usually get a warrant before searching a cellphone.

Take a moment to think about all of the information you have stored on your cellphone. These days, many Americans carry a smartphone, allowing them to access and save a wide variety of information in their phone. In most cases, cellphones can be used to access email and text message communications, as well as photographs and calendars.

During its last term, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of cellphone privacy. Specifically, they considered whether law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant before searching the contents of a cellphone seized during a lawful arrest.

Two cases came before the high court addressing the same issue.

In the first case, an individual - Riley - was stopped by a police officer while he was driving for a traffic violation. He was subsequently arrested on firearm charges. During the course of the arrest, the officer took Riley's cellphone.

Although law enforcement officials never obtained a warrant to search the phone, a search was conducted. Information in the cellphone - including photographs and videos - led the officers to believe that Riley had been involved in a shooting. They also believed he was involved in a gang, based on messages found in his phone. Consequently, Riley was convicted of charges associated with the shooting and received an enhanced sentence due to the gang-related information.

The second case involved an individual - Wurie - who was arrested after police officers believed they had seen him participate in a drug sale. After searching his phone without obtaining a warrant, the officers identified Wurie's home address. They obtained a warrant to search the home and found drugs and weapons. As a result, Wurie was charged with firearm and drug crimes.

The U.S. Supreme Court's holding

In the court's unanimous decision, Chief Justice Roberts concluded that, in most cases, police officers must first obtain a warrant before searching a cellphone seized incident to a lawful arrest.

The court reasoned that the factors allowing for the exception to the warrant requirement were not an issue when it comes to the information stored within a cellphone.

For instance, law enforcement officers are not put in danger by the data stored in the cellphone. In addition, there is little chance of the information in the phone being lost or destroyed during the time it would take an officer to obtain a warrant to search the phone.

Consequently, when a police officer seizes a cellphone during a lawful arrest, he or she must generally first obtain a warrant before searching the information stored in the phone.

If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, you need to take prompt action to protect your interests. In such situations, it is a wise choice to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. A legal professional will work to ensure a strong defense is mounted on your behalf.

Keywords: U.S. Supreme Court, cellphones, warrant, search