On Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not prohibit a deputy sheriff from conducting a warrantless, post-arrest search of the text messages of an arrestee. Specifically, the Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal that the cell phone was “immediately associated with [defendant’s] person at the time of his arrest” and was therefore “properly subjected to a delayed warrantless search.”
In People v. Diaz, filed on January 3, the Court considered whether the trial court properly denied Diaz’s motion to suppress evidence gathered during a search of his cell phone, which occurred approximately 90 minutes after he was arrested for being a coconspirator in the sale of drugs. Diaz denied knowledge of the sales. A deputy sheriff accessed Diaz’s cell phone, which had been seized from Diaz’s person, and found a coded text message that, based on the deputy’s training and experience, indicated Diaz knew of the transaction.
The California Supreme Court’s ruling hinged on its finding that the cell phone “was an item [of personal property] on [defendant’s] person at the time of his arrest and during the administrative processing at the police station.” People v. Diaz, S1666000, slip op. Majority Op. at 8 (Cal. Jan. 1, 2011). As such, the case was controlled by the United States Supreme Court’s holdings in United States v. Edwards, 415 U.S. 800, 802-803 (1974) and United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 224 (1973), in which the High Court affirmed seizures of paint chips from clothing and a cigarette package containing heroin from a coat pocket (respectively).