Comparative analysis of case laws regarding the Fourth Amendment
According to Weinberger (2014), the advent of advanced and innovative technologies in the modern world has spawned a series of legality issues concerning search and seizure protected under the Fourth Amendment: As it stands now, the Fourth Amendment outlaws unreasonable search and seizure, and the Supreme Court has examined that Constitutional principle in relation to phone conversations and snail mail, in school lockers and home property. But the birth of new technologies is raising a whole new set of legal questions. (para. 3)
In this section of the research paper, the author will discuss two distinctive court cases associated with issues surrounding Fourth Amendment searches and seizures: Riley v. California (2014) and United States v. Wurie (2009). In the Riley v. California case, Weinberger (2014) stated that “when San Diego police officers arrested David L. Riley for driving without registration [in 2009]. The officers found loaded weapons in Riley’s car and gang-related messages on Riley’s smartphone” (para 4). In the United States v. Wurie case, Weinberger (2014) mentioned “when Boston police officers used call logs from an arrested man’s flip phone as evidence of her guilt in drug and gun-related crimes [in 2007] (para. 4). Weinberger (2014) also claimed, “These cases have found their way to the Supreme Court in part because police officers believe that smartphones are a vital source of evidence” (para 5).
In the first case, the charges were associated with weapons possession and gang-affiliated text messages found on the suspect’s mobile device; where as in the second case, which involved call log data linked to drug and gun incriminating evidence that was discovered in the suspect’s flip phone. Both cases had similarities and discerning facts involving digital evidentiary artifacts and arguments pertaining to Expectation of Privacy concerns. Now that we have a high-level description of both of these cases, the author will conduct a comparative analysis of the facts and findings of these cases in question.
According to Riley v. California (2014a), the following facts were presented: (1) on August 2, 2009, Riley and his affiliates shot at a rival gang member while they crossed paths in separate vehicles; (2) on August 22, 2009, police pulled over Riley’s Oldsmobile due to expired registration tags; (3) standard police protocol and/or policy Riley’s car to be impounded due to a suspended driver’s license; (4) at the time of seizure, police are mandated to conduct a full inventory of the impounded vehicle to as a standardized practice for liability claims protection, and to identify possible contrabands; (5) a gang unit detective analyzed and processed media files stored on Riley’s cellular phone, which was in his pocket at the time of his arrest and confirmed Riley’s gang affiliation with the Lincoln Park gang in San Diego; (6) based on the recovered media content stored on Riley’s cellular phone and ballistics match, police linked Riley to the August 2, 2009 rival gang shooting; (7) Riley was convicted of additional charges, including attempted murder, assault with a semi-automatic weapon, and shooting at an occupied vehicle; (8) Riley’s motion to suppress the evidentiary information concerning his gang affiliation, which was found in his cellular was denied; and (9) Riley was found guilty for all three counts, and was given a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment by the California Court of Appeal.
According to the United States v. Wurie case, according to the First Circuit court who reviewed the case, the following facts were presented (United States v. Wurie, 2013): (1) Brima Wurie, a resident of South Boston was arrested after parking his car by Boston police for possession of crack cocaine after conducting a drug transaction; (2) Boston police seized two cellular phones belong to Wurie at the police station; (3) Boston police noticed repeating calls were made to one of Wurie’s cellular phones (i.e., traditional flip phone, not smartphone) with the caller ID of “my house”—raising police suspicions to investigate further; (4) An unnamed police officer accessed the suspect’s flip phone and confirmed the phone number registered to the caller ID, “my house” and geo-located the physical address of the registered to the caller ID in question; (5) Boston police conduct search and seizure of Wurie’s residence and discovered evidence of crack cocaine, marijuana, and a firearm during warranted search; (5) Wurie was indicted with three counts criminal charges: possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, cocaine distribution previously seized in the vehicle during Wurie’s arrest, and “possession and intent to distribute cocaine”—evidence seized from Wurie’s residence during a warranted search; (6) the district court denied Wurie’s motion to suppress the collected evidence from warrantless search of his flip phone; (7) Wurie was convicted of all three counts and was sentenced to serve a concurrent sentencing of 262 months for charges on counts 1 and 3; and 240 months for charges found on count 2.
As stated by the lower court findings for the above two cases, both accused were found guilty of all charges and were given fixed-term sentences. However, according to Federal Evidence Review (2014), “on June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision restricting the ability of law enforcement to search a cell phone under the Fourth Amendment that is seized during an arrest” (para. 2), and based on the opinion of Chief Justice Roberts “In the absence of a warrant, a claims search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the warrant requirement” (Rashkind, 2015, p.1). One of the main reason behind this judiciary turning point on cellular phone search and seizure cases was that modern cellular technology advances enables mobile users to store information for which Reasonable Expectation of Privacy exists that requires law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant prior to conduct search and seizure on the arrestees. In addition, the court also found that: Search incident to lawful arrest, the Court held, is not such an exception. “Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,’ Boyd [v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 630 (1886)]. (Rashkind, 2015, p.1)