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    The Lawletter Blog

    CRIMINAL LAW: Digital Cameras Held Outside Scope of Search Incident to Arrest Exception

    Posted by Mark Rieber on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 @ 12:10 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 42 No 8

    Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In Commonwealth v. Mauricio, 477 Mass. 588, 80 N.E.3d 318 (2017), the court held that, under the Massachusetts Constitution, the search of data contained in digital cameras falls outside the scope of the "search incident to a lawful arrest" exception to the warrant requirement.  In so holding, the court found the reasoning set forth in Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), applicable to digital cameras.  In Riley, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the search incident to arrest exception did not apply to cell phones. Riley found that applying the exception to the search of digital data on a cell phone served neither of the two justifications for the exception: prevention of harm to officers and prevention of destruction of evidence. Riley also recognized the privacy interests at stake, since cell phones "place vast quantities of personal information literally in the hands of individuals."  Id.  at 2485.

                Mauricio found that these same considerations also applied to digital cameras and thus determined that the reasoning of Riley presented a compelling basis to exclude digital cameras from the reach of the search incident to arrest exception. The court rejected the Commonwealth's argument that Riley did not apply because digital cameras, lacking the ability to function as computers, were not analogous to cell phones for Fourth Amendment purposes. The court observed that although digital cameras do not allow storage of information as diverse and far ranging as a cell phone, "they nevertheless possess the capacity to store enormous quantities of photographs and often video recordings, dating over periods of months and even years, which can reveal intimate details of an individual's life." Mauricio, 477 Mass. at 593, 80 N.E.3d at 323.

           The court declined to extend the holding in Riley to digital cameras under the Fourth Amendment when the Supreme Court had not yet done so, although Mauricio noted that three federal district courts had addressed the issue. Id. at 593 n.1, 80 N.E.3d at 323 n.1 (citing cases). Instead, the court decided the issue based on the State Constitution and held, for the same reasons articulated in Riley, that digital cameras may be seized incident to an arrest, but that the search of data contained in the digital cameras falls outside the scope of the search incident exception to the warrant requirement.

    Topics: criminal law, privacy interests, digital cameras, outside scope of arrest search exception

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