January 23, 2014
Three years ago, a 5-2 California Supreme Court held in People v. Diaz (2011) 51 Cal.4th 84 that police can conduct a warrantless search of an arrested suspect’s cell phone. The opinion withstood initial attacks: the Legislature passed a bill to overrule the opinion, but Governor Brown vetoed it, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.
Now, Diaz is again under scrutiny, although somewhat indirectly. Last week, the U. S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in People v. Riley to decide “[w]hether evidence admitted at petitioner’s trial was obtained in a search of petitioner’s cell phone that violated petitioner’s Fourth Amendment rights.” In Riley, the California Court of Appeal in San Diego upheld the warrantless cell phone search in an unpublished opinion, finding that “Diaz controls the present case.” The California Supreme Court denied review.
Adam Liptak and Linda Greenhouse discuss Riley and a second case the U. S. Supreme Court will hear concerning the same issue. Liptak says the cases present “a major test of the meaning of the Fourth Amendment in the digital age,” while Greenhouse finds it “intriguing” to watch “judges respond to the challenge of figuring out how old precedents fit with new realities.”