Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that a police search of a criminal suspect’s cell phone need a warrant.
All nine justices agreed that a warrantless search of a cell phone, including checking call logs, violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” because such a device holds a person’s “privacies of life.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. cited a court precedent that differentiates turning out someone’s pocket from ransacking his home for incriminating evidence. He said that while a police search of a suspect’s cigarette pack is legal, a look at a cell phone, which contains so many information such as personal history, medical records and movements, is similar to searching a home, which requires a warrant.
“Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse,” according to the court’s opinion that Roberts wrote.
The decision settles conflicting lower court rulings on two cell phone search lawsuits. One case involves Brima Wurie, who was arrested by Boston police in 2007 on suspicion of selling crack. The police learned that a caller’s number in Wurie’s cell phone was his address. They obtained a warrant to search the home and found crack, marijuana and a weapon there.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit threw out the evidence against Wurie when the police failed to justify that the phone search was meant to ensure an officer’s safety or prevent destruction of evidence.
The other case involves David Leon Riley, who was arrested in 2009 for driving with an expired registration. A police check on his cell phone messages and photos indicated his connection to a criminal gang leading to his indictment, conviction and sentencing. A California court upheld the search of Riley’s cell phone.