Riley v. California

Posted: January 24, 2015 by beguide in case summaries, Criminal Procedure, Right to Privacy, Technology


WHAT HAPPENED: Riley is a criminal defendant who was arrested following a traffic stop, where guns and drugs were found in his vehicle. During the stop, the California Police took and looked through Riley’s cell phone without a warrant, where they found additional evidence that was used against Riley at trial.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: The 4th Amendment generally limits the police’s ability to search your belongings, but police have almost unlimited authority to search your car following a valid vehicle stop which results in an arrest. “Almost” is the key word there, because police may only search a car if they are looking for dangerous weapons or evidence that could be tampered with. The question here is whether or not the defendant’s cell phone qualifies in the general rule allowing searches or the more limited exception.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION: The Supreme Court, which is composed generally of old attorneys in antiquated robes and tradition, is about as apt to resolve cell phone problems as you would generally expect. This decision would determine how much privacy citizens have in their cell phone and whether police have any limitations on looking through your text messages and google history.

WHAT WAS THE RULING: The Court ruled unanimously that the search and seizure of Riley’s phone was unconstitutional. Based on the test articulated above, the Court held that a cell phone was neither a dangerous weapon nor evidence required preservation. Furthermore, the Court held that cell phones contain highly private information that require a warrant before police may conduct any form of search. The Court stated that just because cell phones allow us to carry more private information on our persons does not give that information less protection.

THE GOOD GUYS WON IF YOU: have a cell phone.

THE BAD GUYS WON IF YOU: who knows, man. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like this opinion, you’re a weirdo.

WHO WAS RIGHT: This decision came out a few years ago, so Brett and Nazim could only revel in its afterglow.


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