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West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer Blog


Can You Hear Me From Here? Landmark Supreme Court Decisions on Privacy


Landmark Supreme Court Decisions on Privacy






The United States Supreme Court has now ruled in U.S. v. Wurie, and a companion case, Riley v. California (both which were decided last week) that there is an expectation of privacy in the contents of your cell phone, and that a warrant is required to “search” your cell phone.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on a pair of appeals cases. Criminal suspects in Massachusetts and California were convicted, in part, after phone numbers, text messages, photos and addresses obtained from personal electronic devices linked them to criminal drug and gang activity.

Debate Over Limits of Americans’ Privacy Rights

The appeals cases gave the Supreme Court justices an opportunity to re-enter the public debate over the limits of Americans’ privacy rights, with a focus on the ubiquitous cell phone and its abundant storage of information, photos, and video.

Recently, the issue has left judges nationwide divided over how to apply a 40-year-old precedent, which allows searches of items a suspect possesses after arrest. Both cases presented the Court with a simple, direct question: “whether the police may, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested.”

Unanimous Landmark Decisions

These are landmark decisions from the Supreme Court, given the nature and extent that we rely upon cell phones today.  By a 9-0 vote in each case, the justices said smart phones and other electronic devices were not in the same category as wallets, briefcases, and automobiles — all of which are currently subject to limited initial examination by law enforcement.

The opinions of both cases rest on a simple truth: “Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person.”

What You Need to Know

Keep in mind that if you consent to the search of your phone, no warrant is required.  Further, all the police need to demonstrate to a magistrate is that there is probable cause that there is information on your phone related to the crime and a warrant will be granted.

If you have any questions regarding your Fourth Amendment or other rights, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help. If you are in discussions with the police – even as a witness, you might want to read my recent post on your right to remain silent. I would be happy to meet you for a free consultation.