Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Today's argument at the Supreme Court: Is a warrant necessary for searching cell phones of arrestees?

In case you were wondering, the US Supreme Court will hear oral argument today (article here) about whether a search warrant is required for searching a cell phone of an arrestee.

The storyline goes something like this:  If you are driving a car with expired tags, the police might pull you over.  If they do, they will ask to see your driver’s license.  When you give it to them, they will run a computer check and learn that it has been suspended.  So they decide to impound the car.  But before they tow the car away, they search it.  When they search it, they discover two handguns under the hood, so they arrest you.  When they arrest you, they take your smart phone.  When they take your smart phone, they read your text messages.  When they read the messages, they see texts which suggest that you might be a member of a local gang.  Based in part on those texts, they suspect that you may have been involved in a gang-related shooting a couple of weeks ago, and so they look at your phone again, where they find more evidence to support the theory that you belong to a gang and were involved in the shooting.  

At your trial, you ask the judge to bar the prosecutors from introducing the evidence obtained from your phone.  But the judge rejects that request, ruling that the police could search your phone as part of the process of arresting you – a rule known as a “search incident to arrest.”

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