On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police must first obtain a warrant before searching the cell phones of arrested individuals, except in “exigent circumstances.” Chief Justice John Roberts authored the opinion, which held that an individual’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy outweighs the interest of law enforcement in conducting searches of cell phones without a warrant. The decision resolved a split among state and federal courts on the search incident to arrest doctrine (which permits police to search an arrested individual without a warrant) as it applies to cell phones.
The case of Riley v. California as heard before the Supreme Court combined two cases, one involving a smartphone and the other involving a flip phone. In the first case, Riley v. California, the police arrested David Leon Riley, searched his smartphone, and found photographs and videos potentially connecting him to gang activity and an earlier shooting. In the second case, United States v. Wurie, Brima Wurie was arrested for allegedly dealing drugs, and incoming calls on his flip phone helped lead the police to a house used to store drugs and guns.