Supreme Court to rule on 4th Amendment, cellphone searches

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court set the stage for an important 4th Amendment ruling Friday, announcing it will decide in this term whether police may inspect a suspect’s cellphone without a search warrant when they make an arrest.

Courts in California and Massachusetts have split on the issue, and the justices agreed to hear cases from both states to decide the issue this year.

When police officers arrest a motorist, they are usually free to check around the car for guns, drugs or other items, including papers or notebooks. Citing this principle, some judges have said officers may also look through a cellphone to see where calls were made.

But other judges have said cellphone can hold a wealth of personal information that should be protected as private, at least until an officer obtains a search warrant.

The court will hear an appeal from David Riley, a San Diego man who was stopped by the police, initially for having expired registration tags. A subsequent search of his cellphone tied him to a gang shooting. The California Supreme Court by a 5-2 decision upheld the search of cellphones in a related case.

The court will also hear the Justice Department’s appeal of a ruling that rejected the search of a cellphone that was taken from an alleged drug dealer.

Both cases will be argued in April and decided by late June.


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