Won Battle, Lost War in Cell Phone Search Case

Last year, in a historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Riley v. California that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search cell phones. This historic opinion changed police protocol across the nation and set a strong precedent supporting privacy in a technological era.

Many of you must be wondering what happened to David Leon Riley, who had moved to suppress evidence during his criminal trial regarding his gang affiliation, which was acquired via his cell phone. Riley had been convicted for his connection to the 2009 shooting in San Diego’s Skyline neighborhood. Riley’s attorney is once again petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court arguing the lower court reconsider his case because the lower court had ordered Riley to remain in prison to serve out the rest of his 15-year-to-life sentence.

The 4th District Court in California specifically found that while the phone’s photographs were improperly seized and admitted as evidence, the error was not important enough to have affected the final verdict.

Warrantless Searches (Exceptions)

This case illustrates that Americans have the right to a “fair” trial, but not a perfect one that comes to just results. More importantly, while cell phones now require warrants in order to be searched, there are still clear exceptions that allow for warrantless searches:

  • You may consent to a search
  • Items that are in “plain view” do not need a warrant (plain view doctrine)
  • Incidental searches related to arrests do not require warrants
  • When police feel someone’s safety is at risk
  • Searches of cars and their occupants – while the case law has changed regarding who in a traffic stop may be searched, warrantless searches of the passenger compartment of the car are still allowed if the compartment was within reach of someone before they left the vehicle.

What to Do if You are Searched

The important thing is to stay calm, whether you are at home, in a public place, or in your car. If the police ask if they can search you, you may say “No.” If they go ahead with the search or find incriminating evidence, contact a criminal defense lawyer right away. It is also recommended you write down every detail you can think of, and get the names and contact information for any witnesses to the police interaction.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

The Law Offices of David M. Boertje handles all types of misdemeanor and felony criminal cases in San Diego County. Mr. Boertjie has successfully tried many cases, including those that pertain to improperly seized evidence, improper searches, and violations of constitutional rights.  Whenever possible, he will move to suppress evidence from your case. Contact our office today and ask for a free, confidential consultation to see how we may be able to put our experience to use to help you.