Two of the blockbuster cases the Supreme Court will decide before adjourning for summer recess are Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie. The cases involve the warrant-less searching of cellphones after an arrest. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” If police officers want to come in and search your home, office, or Batcave they need a warrant to do so and that warrant must be supported by probable cause.
There are a few exceptions to the warrant requirement, however. One of those exceptions is that after being placed under arrest the police are allowed to search your person, purses, bags, and vehicle (in some circumstances), for evidence, contraband or weapons without the need of a search warrant. But what about cell phones? May the police dig into your pocket, unlock your phone and dig through your texts, emails, phone calls, looking for evidence? In United States v. Wurie, the government claims “although cellphones contain a great deal of personal information, so can may other items that officers have long had authority to search, and the search of a cell phone is no more intrusive than other actions that the police may take once a person has been lawfully arrested.” This statement is flat out wrong and is in complete contradiction to the Constitution. Modern technology has turned cell phones into mini computers. We have more processing power in a modern cell phone than we did in the computers that took us to the moon. Just imagine trying to explain an iPhone or Galaxy phone, wifi, and the internet to someone from fifty years ago. They would think you were crazy and you would most likely end up in an insane asylum blabbering about talking to voices in a box and being able to read pages out of thin air. For many of us, our cell phones are an intricate part of our lives that hold a great deal of personal information; police want unrestricted access to it if you are lawfully arrested.
If the government prevails the police could arrest you for any crime, no matter how minor, and then search your cell phone for additional evidence to use against you. They could even add additional charges based off of any information found in your phone. Imagine being arrested for disorderly and the police officer searches your text messages and found incriminating evidence or things intended for your eyes only.
America is not turning into a 1984-like dystopia just yet. When oral arguments were presented before the Supreme Court in favor of this police power many of the justices were visibly troubled by the consequences of the rule pressed by the government. Justice Ginsberg stressed that if a cell phone is allowed to be searched without a warrant, no matter how minor or relatively unimportant crime it “opens up the world to the police.” If the police wanted to search your computer they would first need a search warrant that specifically stated what type of computer it was, where it was to be found, the physical description of the computer, and what they were looking for in particular on the computer. Our computers are our “papers and effects” that are protected by the Fourth Amendment from warrantless searches and seizures.
When the Supreme Court finally rules on this case it will hopefully add cellphones to the list of items that require a warrant before searching. Smartphones hold too much information about our everyday lives to be left unprotected from unreasonable intrusion by an ever unrelenting police aggression. Before the court makes its official ruling it is best just to keep your smartphone’s lock activated. Having a lock on your phone is the first indication that you expect privacy and, to gain access, the government and any other person must have your express permission to access your phone. If you do not have a smartphone then never consent to a search of the phone. If you have the phone taken from you during a search clearly tell the officer that you do not consent to a search of it. More times than not the officer is going to ignore you and do what he wants. But, if you make it known to the officer, witness, and any cameras, that you do not consent to a search then you have a very strong possibility of getting that evidence suppressed with the help of a well-trained attorney. If suppressed, the government will not be able to use that evidence against you in a trial. Further, you may be entitled to compensation for the government’s violation of your Constitutional rights. By knowing your rights and expressing them clearly and immediately you afford your self the greatest protection and give your counsel a leg up when defending you.