Warrantless Cellphone Searches Constitutional?
Warrantless Cellphones Searches require a search warrant when performed after an individual is arrested or detained. See Riley v California, _ U.S. _ (June 25, 2014). The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) limited the ability of law enforcement to search an individual’s cellphone during or after an arrest. However, the Court did indicate that officers may in some circumstances perform warrantless cellphones searches.
First, SCOTUS focused its attention on the scope of when an individual and his or her belongings could and would be searched due to the long standing debate on the issue. The Court looked at multiple situations involved the extension and limitation of the search incident to arrest exception in order to compare to their issue of warrantless cellphone searches.
The Court even looked at the transition in technology and accessibility of information available to and stored within cellphones. This ultimately seemed to be the crux in the government’s argument with warantless cellphones searches and their allowance. The Court spoke of the intimacy and daily use of cellphones as compared to just a decade ago, which again weighed in favor of limiting the use of warrantless cellphone searches.
It is essential to understand that the Court, in this situation, used a balancing test for determing the legitmacy of warrantless cellphone searches. This means courts must balance the governmental interest at stake with the privacy interest at issue, and in Riley v California, _ U.S. _ (June 25, 2014), the government interest was criminal evidence and the privacy interest was the information contained within the cellphone that searched. Therefore, because of the advancement technology and our dependency on that technology warrantless cellphone searches will generally be unconstitutional if performed by the government or law enforcement. I believe this is the reason that the opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts was joined by all but one of the remaining Justices.
The Court went as far to say and remind its readers that simply because individuals are placed into custody or arrested does not automatically diminish their right to privacy and warrantless searches, including cellphones. However, again it must also be remembered that the Court did not create a bright-line rule with its holding in Riley v California. This means that warrantless cellphone searches can happen in emergency situations. These situations are known as exigency circumstances and allow for warrantless cellphone searches because of the possibility of the destruction of evidence or safety of the public.
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