On Tuesday, April 29, 2014 the Supreme Court held back-to-back hearings on cases testing the authority of police to search the contents of cellphones they take from people they have arrested.
Riley v. California involves a San Diego man, David Leon Riley, convicted of shooting at an occupied vehicle, attempted murder, and assault with a semi-automatic weapon. Riley was not arrested at the time of the incident, and he was never positively identified as a participant. A jury convicted him on all three counts largely based on data from a cellphone seized from him at the time of a later arrest, the contents of which were examined without a warrant.
United States v. Wurie concerns a search made of a drug dealer’s South Boston apartment. The residence was discovered and the search made after arresting officers noticed that a phone in suspect Brima Wurie’s possession was getting repeated calls from a number identified on the screen as “my house.” Tracing the telephone number, they located his residence. The inspection of the phone was without a search warrant, and evidence at the apartment was eventually used to convict Wurie of distributing crack cocaine, possessing the crack with intent to distribute it, and owning a gun and ammunition as a felon.
Our expert attended both arguments and offered his impressions to a call-in audience.
- Prof. Orin S. Kerr, Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor of Law, The George Washington University Law School