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    Criminal Law Blog

    CRIMINAL LAW UPDATE: Validity of Warrantless Searches of Cell Phones Incident to Arrest

    Posted by Gale Burns on Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 12:05 PM

    Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         In January 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in two cases to resolve a split in the lower courts concerning whether the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine that allows law enforcement to seize the cell phone of an arrestee also allows a warrantless search of the seized phone. See United States v. Wurie, 728 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2013), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 999 (2014); People v. Riley, No. D059840, 2013 WL 475242 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 8, 2013) (unpublished), review denied (Cal. May 1, 2013) cert. granted in part, 134 S. Ct. 999 (2014).

         In Wurie, a divided panel of the First Circuit held that the search-incident-to-arrest exception does not authorize the warrantless search of data on a cell phone seized from an arrestee's person, because such search is not necessary to protect arresting officers or preserve destructible evidence. The panel acknowledged that a majority of courts, including California's, have ultimately upheld warrantless cell phone data searches, but it observed that the courts have used a variety of approaches to reach this conclusion.

         In Riley, a California Court of Appeal found People v. Dray, 244 P.3d 501 (Cal. 2011), to be controlling and held that the warrantless search of data on the defendant's cell phone, which was on his person at the time of arrest, was lawful as a valid search incident to arrest. The U.S. Supreme Court stated that the issue to be reviewed in Riley was "[w]hether evidence admitted at petitioner's trial was obtained in a search of petitioner's cell phone that violated petitioner's Fourth Amendment rights." 134 S. Ct. at 999.

    Topics: legal research, criminal law, Mark Rieber, warrantless searches, cell phones, search incident to arrest, preserve data, protection of arresting officers, United States v. Wurie, 1st Cir., People v. Riley, Cal. Supreme Court

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