Riley v. California (2014)

The Facts

In two separate cases, David Riley and Brima Wurie were arrested and searched by police. The police took their cell phones and searched their phones without a warrant for incriminating information. David and Brima challenged the reasonableness of the warrantless searches under the Fourth Amendment.

The Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies to cell phone searches even incident to arrest. The Court carefully considered the facts, observing that the cell phone “not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form—unless the phone is.” And while preserving evidence and protecting the safety of arresting officers are surely legitimate government ends, the Court found that those concerns were substantially diminished once the phone is in police custody and any residual risks could easily be mitigated without authorizing highly intrusive, warrantless searches. Critically, the Court concluded that “neither the United States nor California offers evidence to suggest that their concerns are based on actual experience.”