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Revisiting Riley v. California: Which Searches Need a Warrant?

Posted by Steve Karimi | Aug 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Last year, a case arising out of our Southern neighbors in California paved the way for a historic U.S. Supreme Court decision. David Leon Riley was arrested and convicted for his alleged connection to a 2009 shooting in San Diego. Law enforcement had used photos obtained via his cell phone to connect him to gang affiliations. The search of Riley's phone was done without a warrant, so the Defendant moved to suppress the evidence. Riley's case made it all the way up to the Supreme Court. On June 24, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Riley v. California, in a unanimous 9-0 vote that warrants were required in cell phone searches, forcing a historic change in police protocol across the nation

While the ruling set a strong precedent for privacy in the technological era, the story does not have much of a happy ending. Riley was ordered to remain in prison to serve out the rest of his 15 year to life sentence by the 4th District Court in California, and his attorney has announced he will be petitioning the Supreme Court once again, to reconsider the case.

As this case reminds us, the requirements (and outcomes) for warrantless searches are messy, and constantly under flux with the age of technology. This blog aims to break down the current state of the warrant requirements

When a Warrant is Required

In general, 4th Amendment protection is attached whenever one has a "reasonable expectation of privacy."

  • As specified by Riley v. California (2014) police may not search cell phones of criminal suspects upon arrest, without a warrant.
  • As specified by Kyllo v. U.S. (2001), the Supreme Court held that infrared (thermal imaging) technology may not be used to see inside someone's home without a warrant

When a Warrant is Not Required

  • Searches incidental to a lawful arrest: police may search your person (ie. your pockets) and anything that was within your reach.
  • Plain View Exception: No warrant is required to seize evidence in plain view if the police are legitimately in the location from which the evidence can be viewed.
  • If you Consent: it is not recommended you give consent for a search, if given a choice).
  • Stop & Frisk (also called a Terry Stop): while traditionallypolice could stop and search a suspect if they have a "reasonable suspicion" of a criminal, the Washington Supreme Court in State v. Russell (2014) limited this search in Washington, to only weapons.
  • Automobile Exception/personal belongings: Police may search glove compartment, closed containers, and anything within reach of the suspect
  • Emergency Situations when a crime is being committed or safety is at risk
  • federal law does not currently require warrants for emails

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You."

Seattle criminal defense lawyer Steve Karimi has been zealously defending people's constitutional rights for decades. Mr. Karimi handles all misdemeanor and felony criminal cases including charges of criminal conspiracy, drug charges, gang charges, and cases that arise from improperly seized evidence. When you understand the potential consequences of a being charged with a crime, you will understand how important it is to work with an experienced attorney who knows the local courts and inner workings of law enforcement. Whenever possible, Mr. Karimi will move to suppress evidence. Contact a King County Criminal Defense Attorney today or call 206-621-8777 to schedule a free initial consultation. 24-hour-a-day call service is available at 206-660-6200.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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