CRF Blog

The Supreme Court Updates the Fourth Amendment

by Bill Hayes

In The Supreme Court Updates the Fourth Amendment for Justia, Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the recent decision in Riley v. California.

Last week, the Supreme Court handed down Riley v. California together with United States v. Wurie, in one of the most significant Fourth Amendment decisions in recent history. The Court faced the question of whether and how to apply the “search incident to arrest” doctrine to cell phones and smart phones that police find in the possession of an arrestee. Different courts had resolved the issue differently (including in the two cases before the Court, Riley and Wurie). The Court held, in a nearly unanimous opinion, that police may not examine the digital contents of an arrestee’s cell phone as part of a search incident to arrest. In so ruling, the Court decisively embraced Fourth Amendment protection for digital privacy in the Twenty-First Century, a welcome and somewhat novel development.

In Riley, the petitioner, David Leon Riley, was stopped by police for a traffic violation. In the course of the stop, police discovered that Riley’s license had been suspended, and the car was impounded. As a routine part of impounding the vehicle, police conducted a lawful inventory search of the car, during which they found two handguns. Police subsequently arrested Riley for possession of concealed and loaded firearms. [more]