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US Supreme Court to rule on warrantless cellphone searches

updated 01:01 pm EST, Sat January 18, 2014

Hearing evaluating two cases with evidence gained at core of trials

Earlier this week, the US Supreme Court decided to hear a case regarding law enforcement officials being allowed to perform a warrantless search of contents of mobile phones held by arrested suspects, and use of the attendant evidence gathered in prosecution of other crimes. The court is evaluating two separate cases, each with an opposing view on the matter, but which have a common thread -- in both cases, evidence found on the smartphone searched without a warrant was key to the prosecution of the individual arrested.

The ruling is expected to form a de facto standard for the pastiche of federal and state rulings on the matter. In both cases, evidence was found on individual phones at the time of arrest for a different (and relatively minor) matter, which lead to prosecution of drug distribution, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, respectively.

In the first case involving drug distribution, police were lead to a cache of drugs as a result of stored information on the phone. A court of appeals threw out the evidence obtained, saying that "the search-incident-to-arrest exception does not authorize the warrantless search of data on a cell phone seized from an arrestee's person."

The second case started with a traffic stop, and an arrest from driving on a suspended license. A pair of warrantless searches of the cellphone led to ballistics tests on discovered weapons, which ultimately led to the individual's conviction for a drive-by shooting with no witnesses and little other evidence. An appeal failed, as California's court had already given its blessing to warrantless cellphone searches.

The hearing discussing both cases has not been scheduled, but will likely be heard before summer.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    For messy cases such as these, I'm glad I'm not on the Court. Keep in mind that, if warrantless searches are upheld, over time even the stupider criminals will become more adept at hiding stuff. My hunch is that the Court will rule that, because a phone can be held until a warrant is issued, a warrant will be required for a search.

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