Example Of Rule Of Law: In The Case Of A Search Incident To Arrest, The Applicable Law Is The Fourth Amendment. Case Study
Facts: Prior to the arrest of the defendant David Riley, a person was injured in a drive-by shooting. Police suspected that the shooting was gang-related. On August 22, 2009, Riley was stopped by police for expired registration tags and his car was impounded and searched once the officer’s learned he was driving with a suspended license. When police found two handguns under the hood, Riley was arrested for possession of concealed and loaded handguns. In a search incident to arrest, a mobile phone was found in Riley’s pocket. The phone was transferred to the station’s gang-unit for further examination. A search of Riley’s phone by police revealed a number of photos saved in the phone’s memory that tied Riley to gang membership. A ballistics check of the guns found in Riley’s car tied him to the drive-by shooting a few weeks earlier. That evidence was used to charge Riley with a number of crimes including attempted murder. At trial, Riley argued that the police search of his phone violated his Constitution rights and therefore excluded from being used against him. The trial judge disagreed and allowed the state to use the information. Riley was convicted. Proof of his gang membership resulted in and enhanced sentence of 15 years to life.
Procedural History: Riley appealed his conviction to the California Supreme Court arguing that the trial court erred in not suppressing the information found on the phone. The California Supreme Court, however, upheld the conviction. Under the court’s analysis a valid search incident to a lawful arrest, authorizes police to search a mobile phone, without a warrant, found on the person arrested or in the immediate vicinity. According to the court, the search is allowed to protect the officer from harm or to preserve evidence. Riley then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case, arguing that the contents of a mobile phone fall outside of the search incident to arrest standard. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case; with arguments heard on April 29, 2014 and a decision rendered on June 25, 2014.
Issue(s): Is a search of a mobile phone incident to arrest a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures?
Holding: Yes. In a unanimous decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court held that a warrantless search of a mobile phone incident to arrest is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Court’s Analysis: The Court began with an acknowledgement that the rationale underlying searches incident to arrest, namely that they are needed to protect the officer from harm or to preserve evidence from destruction or damage, was correct. According to the Court, however, a modern mobile phone could neither pose a threat to an officer’s safety nor, if properly handled, result in damage or destruction to any evidence on it. Moreover, the Court found that with the amount of information that people store on their phones and the diverse functions people use their phones for, make them different and more protected than a wallet. In addition, since the majority of data on a phone is actually not on the phone but rather in some remote database, any “evidence” in them cannot be considered on the person arrested. Consequently, the Court held that any attempt to access the information on a mobile phone found on an arrestee must be made with a warrant.
Concurrences: Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion’s only concurrence. In his concurrence, Justice Alito questioned the Court’s analysis of whether the mobile phone search was needed to protect officers or evidence. According to Justice Alito, there might other reasons a mobile phone should be searched such as to obtain “probative evidence.” Alito also suggested the legislatures might want to pass regulations on what types of information an officer should be allowed to access otherwise cases, such as Riley’s would continue to be resolved in the courts.
“Fourth Amendment, Search and Seizure, Searching Cell Phones Incident to Arrest, Riley v. California.” Harvard Law Review 128.1 (2014): 251-260. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
Riley v. California. 134 S.Ct.2473 (2014). Supreme Court. 25 Jun. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.