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Landmark Cases: Riley vs. California

riley vs. california

In the past, seeing someone meant you had to physically be in their presence. Robbing a bank required actually going to a bank. Tracing someone’s travel patterns involved literally following them. But not anymore. As technology continues to advance, it often takes several years for the law to catch up. The landmark case of Riley vs. California (2014) is but one example. Nearing the end of our series on landmark cases, we’ll review this one and what it could mean for you.

Riley vs. California: The Facts

First, what happened in this case? How did it reach the U.S. Supreme Court?

On August 22, 2009, a police officer pulled over David Leon Riley for expired tags on his vehicle. During the stop, the officer discovered Riley using a suspended driver’s license. Therefore, the police impounded the vehicle in order to prevent Riley from driving on his suspended license. Impounding it also involved conducting an inventory search on the vehicle. During this search, officers found two handguns which were later determined to have been used in a gang-related murder 20 days earlier. Furthermore, Mr. Riley was a suspect in that crime. After this discovery, officers arrested Riley and searched the contents of his smartphone. They found various evidence on his phone that demonstrated his gang activity and probable involvement in the murder.

In response, Riley’s defense moved to suppress the evidence obtained from his smartphone. They claimed searching his phone in this way violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Regardless, the California court ruled the search valid.

The Court’s Decision

Second, Riley’s defense appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They argued that permitting such searches exposed “every American’s entire life to the police department, not just at the scene but later at the station house and downloaded into their computer forever.”

In response, the Court unanimously ruled that the warrantless search and seizure of the digital contents of a cell phone was unconstitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Digital data stored on a cell phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate the arrestee’s escape.”

Riley vs. California and You

Third, what does this case mean for you? Given its recency and how it involves modern technology, the case remains particularly relevant. If you’re arrested for a crime, the police may ensure you do not have any weapons; they may confiscate certain things you have with you. But they cannot open and search your phone without a warrant!

Hire the Best Attorney in New Jersey!

Finally, you can see how Riley got justice because he had an exceptional defense attorney. They knew how to argue and how to appeal. If you need a lawyer like that by your side, then contact the best: Mark Catanzaro.


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