Smartphones, Police, and the Fourth Amendment

All to frequently, one of the things police officers do when they stop or arrest people in their late teens to early twenties is ask for their phone. The police officer then usually goes through the information on the phone. This happens to my students on a pretty frequent basis. What is most troubling is that the United States Supreme Court has held that police need a warrant to go through a person’s smart phone. Even if the police have arrested you, they still need a warrant to go through a person’s phone.

In Riley v. California the Supreme Court’s ruling was 9 – 0 which is a rarity. The Court held that police must have a warrant to search a cell phone (smartphone). In the opinion, the Court discussed that searches by police need to be analyzed from the standpoint of what is a reasonable invasion of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights.  The Court determined that the usual reasons for allowing police to search a person after they have been arrested, the potential the individual may have something that could harm the police officers and the potential that the person may destroy evidence, are NOT present in the case of a phone. The Court stated that the vast quantities of private information on a phone require police officers to obtain a warrant before searching a cell/smartphone.

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