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Supreme Court Holds That a Warrant Is Required for Cell Phone Searches

Today, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous, consolidated opinion in United States v. Wurie and Riley v. California (Nos. 13-132, 13-212), declining to extend the search incident to arrest exception in United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (1973) "to searches of data on cell phones, and hold[ing] instead that officers must generally secure a warrant before conducting such a search." 

The Court sought a clear rule for cell phone searches, rejecting the government's various proposed solutions as infeasible and/or overly intrusive.  Instead, the Court reasoned, case-specific exceptions may still justify a warrantless search, such as the need to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence in individual cases, to pursue a fleeing suspect, or assist the injured.

In summing up its conclusion, the Court stated: "Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life' . . . . The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple— get a warrant."

For more on the opinion, see this SCOTUSblog post.

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