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Police & You: Is Your Smart Phone Data Protected?

Expect new developments this year regarding the Police & You.  On Friday, January 17, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases regarding the authority of police to search the contents of an individual's cell phone without a warrant. The Court has agreed to review Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie. Both cases involve information found in the defendant's cell phone that was used as evidence to convict.

Wurie involves call logs taken from a piece of technology that is rapidly becoming considered old-fashioned: Wurie's flip-phone.

In 2007, after watching Brian Wurie make a drug sale, a police officer followed Wurie from the scene and arrested him. Wurie was taken to the police station and searched, and officers checked the call logs of the two cell phones the defendant carried on him. They traced one number to Wurie's home, where a search uncovered a firearm and more drugs, resulting in additional charges.  The lower court ruled that the police were required to have a warrant before searching the phone.

Riley v. California involves a smartphone.  Riley was convicted of shooting at an occupied vehicle, attempted murder, and assault with a semi-automatic weapon for events in August 2009. Riley was not arrested at the scene of the incident, but later, when he was pulled over for driving with expired license plates. The police seized his cellphone from his person and examined its contents. Evidence taken from the phone and used to convict included a photo of Riley with a car that was seen at the shooting, and videos linking Riley to gang activity.

These cases have raised a significant question in the context of the Police & You -- whether it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment - which protects against unreasonable search and seizure - to allow police to search the mass of digitized information stored in an individual's cell phone at the time of their arrest without a search warrant.

Until now, cell phone searches have been protected under Chimel v. California. However, Chimel was decided in 1969, and does not account for the vast advancements in technology that have been made since then. The Supreme Court's review Riley and Wurie will examine how to apply an older court precedent to new devices. The Court's decision is expected by late-June, 2014.

Pending the outcome in Riley and Wuire, it is important to remember that law enforcement officials are able to search your phone and use its contents against you. Should you find yourself in this situation, the best option for you is to contact an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney who will aggressively fight for you rights.

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