Posted on Jun 25, 2014

WASHINGTON -- A unanimous Supreme Court says police may not generally search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants.

The justices say cellphones are powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest.

Chief Justice John Roberts says that because the phones contain so much information, police must get a warrant before looking through them.

Here is the decision (PDF). Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion for the court, and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment.

The two consolidated cases before the court concerned an old-fashioned flip phone and a more modern smartphone.In the flip phone case, police used a reverse directory to find the address of a number listed as "my house" on the flip phone carried by a man arrested on suspicion of selling cocaine outside his car. The suspect, Brima Wurie, received several calls to the "my home" number while in police custody. Police then obtained a warrant to search Wurie's home and found drugs and a weapon.

In the other case, police seized a cellphone carried by David Leon Riley when he was stopped for an expired auto registration. Police learned Riley's license was suspended and they impounded his car. Police found guns in Riley’s car and searched his smartphone, finding a photo of him next a car linked to a shooting as well as information indicating he was a member of a street gang.


Adam Lee Nemann
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Trial and Defense Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Law at Capital University, founder of Nemann Law Offices

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