U.S. Supreme Court Finds that a Search Warrant is Needed to Search Cell Phones

The United States Supreme Court just released its decision in Riley v. California that a search warrant is needed to look at the contents of a cell phone during an arrest. The landmark unanimous decision by the Supreme Court affects the realm of defense law by broadening the protections offered by the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment provides: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” However, a warrantless search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The exception at issue in the Riley case was a warrantless search conducted incident to a lawful arrest.

In Riley, the petitioner was stopped for a traffic violation. During his arrest, police officers searched his cell phone without obtaining a warrant, and discovered evidence tying him to another crime. Riley was later convicted of that crime in a criminal defense case based on evidence discovered on his cell phone.

The Court in Riley stated, “Cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos. This has several interrelated privacy consequences. First, a cell phone collects in one place many distinct types of information that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record. Second, the phones capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible. Third, data on the phone can date back for years. In addition, an element of pervasiveness characterizes cell phones but not physical records. A decade ago officers might have occasionally stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90% of American adults who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives.” Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 15-22

The Court’s decision in Riley is a welcomed change from the seemingly continuous narrowing of the Fourth Amendment protections, especially in the case of criminal defense. The fact that the decision was unanimous gives me hope that Fourth Amendment arguments don’t always fall on deaf ears.

Important Development in San Diego Immigration Law

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has announced that he will no longer comply with detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officials unless presented with an ICE arrest warrant. These detainer requests, or “immigration holds” allowed federal officials to request local jails to detain undocumented immigrants past their jail release date. Unfortunately, these requests were often made without probable cause, which is required under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. This resulted in inmates being unlawfully detained, often with no release date in sight, while federal officials investigated and determined how to proceed.

Sheriff Gore’s change in policy comes in the wake of a Federal Court ruling that a local Oregon jail violated an inmate’s Fourth Amendment rights by detaining her without probable cause or a court-approved warrant. According to the ACLU, the Sheriff’s decision made San Diego County the largest county in the U.S. to implement this new policy. I would like to believe that Sheriff Gore’s decision demonstrates that he appreciates the importance of legal concepts like “Due Process”. However, I think it is more likely because there is now legal precedence that he could be sued and held liable by inmates who are unlawfully detained. Either way, his decision and new policy is a positive change in immigration issues facing many San Diego residents.

District Attorney Offers Free Software to Track Kids’ Online Activity

In response to an increase of cases where children were victimized after interacting with somebody online, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is offering free software to parents that will monitor their children’s computer activity. Five thousand copies of the software ComputerCOP will be available at any of the DA offices in the county while supplies last.

Ringing in the New Year

Happy 2013! I hope that everybody had a wonderful (and safe!) Holiday Season with family and friends!

As I look forward to another year of being a solo practitioner, I can’t help but reflect on 2012 with a huge sense of gratitute towards my clients and associates. Thank you for making 2012 a great year! Although I never wish for repeat business, please know that I am here for you if you need me for any reason! Here is to a memorable 2013!!