A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Supreme Court to hear cell phone privacy cases

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Friday granted review [text, PDF] over the issue of police authority to search the contents of an arrested individual's cell phone. The court accepted two cases on the matter to review. The first, Riley v. California [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], is a state court case that involves a challenge to searching an arrested individual without a warrant. After being arrested, police examined Riley's cell phone, which was described as more of a hand-held computer. In granting certiorari, the court amended the question presented to: "Whether evidence admitted at petitioner's trial was obtained in a search of petitioner's cell phone that violated petitioner's Fourth Amendment rights." In the federal case, United States v. Wurie [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], the court will examine a similar fact pattern, but the cell phone was an ordinary flip-phone. After arresting Wurie on suspicion of dealing drugs, police inspected his cell phone and retrieved phone numbers that were repeatedly calling his phone. Police traced the calls back to Wurie's home where they found drugs and guns. Even though these cases address the same constitutional issue, the court chose not to consolidate the cases. The court also agreed Friday to rule in Lane v. Franks [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to determine (1) whether the government is categorically free under the First Amendment to retaliate against a public employee for truthful sworn testimony that was compelled by subpoena and was not a part of the employee's ordinary job responsibilities; and (2) whether qualified immunity precludes a claim for damages in such an action.

Cell phones have caused significant legal controversy. In July, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that warrants were not required to track cell phones. The week before, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that police must obtain search warrants before obtaining tracking information from cell phone providers, marking the first time a state supreme court has recognized a Fourth Amendment protection for cell phone location data. In May the Florida Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that police need a warrant [JURIST report] to search a defendant's cell phone at the time of arrest. Last December, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that data stored on personal cell phones is not protected by the Stored Communications Act (SCA) [text]. The Senate Judiciary Committee that November approved a bill [JURIST report] that would prevent police from searching e-mails and other electronic content without a warrant.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.