Law enforcement officials across Orange County began adjusting to new search limits on Wednesday, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled officers need warrants to look through the cellphones of people they arrest.
Until Wednesday, the court’s long-standing view was that police were free to search someone who was stopped on the street or in his car and put under arrest. Known as the search incident to arrest rule, officers could check a suspect’s pockets and examine his possessions, including a wallet, purse and pockets with the intention of allowing police to protect themselves by finding weapons. However, police were also free to collect other evidence within this search.
The Surpreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday in Riley v. California, that police may not search a smartphone or similar device without a warrant from a judge. This decision is likely to put a significant check on the government’s ability to search electronic devices such as phones, laptops, and tablets, limiting the government’s ability to search through intimate details of our private lives.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was quoted as saying that because digital devices have transformed how people live, they must also transform the law on privacy. “Modern cellphones are not just another technological device,” he said. “With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the ‘privacies of life.’” Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
The Supreme Court decision on cell phone searches suggests an evolution within the Court that recognizes the way advances in technology have changed the Fourth Amendment. This ruling has set case law that a cell phone is not an object anymore but a carrier of information to which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.