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“Ring, Ring” Cell Phone Privacy: New Supreme Court Ruling

A recent Supreme Court of the United States case addressed the issue of whether a search warrant is needed in order to search the contents of a person’s cell phone1. In this digital age of a cell phone acting as a lifeline to users (calendar, alarm clock, video/song player, financial planner, etc.), a device no bigger than a deck of playing cards can contain personal and intimate information about not only the owner, but others as well.

In the recent ruling, the Court held that in order to search extensively the information contained in a person’s cell phone, the police must obtain a search warrant first. In Indiana, warrants may be issued by a Court to search for information such as property which is obtain unlawfully, property which is evidence of an offence, and people, to name a few. Probable cause is required for a search warrant to be issued2.

One theory behind wanting to search cell phones without a warrant would be that if criminal action is going on, and the party is on his or her cell phone, there may be recent searches, maps, pictures, or texts which could lead to the deterrence of further or future crimes. However, with the recent Supreme Court ruling, there is no accessing that information until there is a search warrant. There are searches that can be conducted without a warrant, when there are certain circumstances met.

In the case of Riley v. California, the Defendant Riley was pulled over by police for expired tags and was later found to have a suspended license. When searching the defendant pursuant to his arrest (there were handguns located in the car), the officer took the defendant’s cell phone, and found texts with initials linked to gang activity. The phone was later searched again for evidence including pictures and videos3.

The Court held that searches incident to arrest involving cell phones do not have a risk to officer safety such as a weapon-essentially, that data cannot injure the officers as they are processing the person being arrested. Also, the risk of data being erased from the phone was not found to be persuasive as the officers are unlikely to be able to search the phone right away even without a warrant, and third parties can delete data remotely at almost any time. Several other factors were examined in determining that a search warrant is required for search of the contents of a cell phone, which will not all be explored in this blog post.

We hope that this blog post has been helpful in exploring a recent Supreme Court decision. This blog is not intended as legal advice. If you have questions or concerns about your case, CIYOU & DIXON, P.C. may be able to help evaluate same. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.

  1. Riley v. California, 573 U.S._____(2014)
  2. See generally, Ind. Code §35-33-5-1
  3. Riley v. California, 573 U.S._____(2014)



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