Law Enforcement Cannot Search Cell Phones Without Search Warrant

In the case of Riley vs. California, Number 130132, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2014, a unanimous Court held that the police cannot search or access information on a cell phone even though it is incident to an arrest (in this case it was for a weapons charge), except when it involves the threat of a terrorist attack or specific danger of a case such as child abduction.

What can be described as a landmark decision and may prove to be historic precedent in holding the right to privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution outweighs the need and convenience of police by now requiring they get a search warrant, it will certainly have a huge impact on the procedures and protocols of all law enforcement agencies and departments.

Prior courts were split on ruling in favor or against the police being allowed to search a suspect to prevent any evidence from being destroyed and in order to determine if there were any concealed weapons for their protection and that of others. Those in favor of such invasive searches considered them no different than perhaps looking at the contents of an address book discovered during a pat down and/or a search.

On the other hand, proponents of the right to privacy focused on the unparalleled amount of data stored in and comprising the contents of cell phones, in the most part containing nearly everything a person uses and/or needs in his/her daily life, whether text messages; emails; voice mail; videos; photos; mobile apps; archives of web browsing; GPS and the inherent history of locations where a person has been or wants to go that is contained therein; bank accounts and the contents of deposits and debits; as well as charge account purchases, etc. Nothing comes even close except a tablet, laptop and/or desktop computer, and these often do not contain the extent of data and information as customarily held in smart phones commonly sold as Droids and iPhones to the public and now used by the vast majority of society.