Alan Butler of EPIC writes:
Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, two cases involving the warrantless search of an individual’s cell phone incident to arrest. These cases present an important and fundamental Fourth Amendment question: whether the police can search the entire contents of an individual’s cell phone incident to any lawful arrest. As others have noted today, the Justices seemed to recognize that cell phones and other digital devices create a “new world” that justifies a modified search incident to arrest rule. But the Justices struggled throughout the arguments in both cases to identify a workable rule.
One important practical insight from Orin Kerr is that, given the short time frame for a decision (the case will be decided by mid-June), it is possible the Justices will seek a unified majority author for both the Riley and Wurie opinions. Given that consideration, and the facts and arguments in Wurie, it is possible that an unexpected “middle ground” compromise will emerge focused on the plain view doctrine. But regardless of the particular majority approach, it seems very unlikely that the Justices will endorse the broad categorical rule that all individuals’ cell phones are subject to limitless search incident to arrest. And if the Court can’t agree on a compromise solution, Justice Kagan might have enough votes for a categorical ban on warrantless cell phone searches.
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