Post details: CA1 decides cell phone can't be searched incident to arrest

05/19/13

Permalink 06:20:33 am, by fourth, 1024 words, 1051 views   English (US)
Categories: General

CA1 decides cell phone can't be searched incident to arrest

Invoking James Otis's concerns about "plac[ing] the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer," the First Circuit joins Ohio and Florida in holding a cell phone is a computer and not subject to search incident. [There is now a circuit split, too, and the issue should be taken by SCOTUS.] United States v. Wurie, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 9937 (1st Cir. May 17, 2013):

[More:]

Courts have struggled to apply the Supreme Court's search-incident-to-arrest jurisprudence to the search of data on a cell phone seized from the person. The searches at issue in the cases that have arisen thus far have involved everything from simply obtaining a cell phone's number, United States v. Flores-Lopez, 670 F.3d 803, 804 (7th Cir. 2012), to looking through an arrestee's call records, United States v. Finley, 477 F.3d 250, 254 (5th Cir. 2007), text messages, id., or photographs, United States v. Quintana, 594 F. Supp. 2d 1291, 1295-96 (M.D. Fl. 2009).

Though a majority of these courts have ultimately upheld warrantless cell phone data searches, they have used a variety of approaches. Some have concluded that, under Robinson and Edwards, a cell phone can be freely searched incident to a defendant's lawful arrest, with no justification beyond the fact of the arrest itself. E.g., People v. Diaz, 244 P.3d 501 (Cal. 2011). Others have, to varying degrees, relied on the need to preserve evidence on a cell phone. E.g., United States v. Murphy, 552 F.3d 405, 411 (4th Cir. 2009); Finley, 477 F.3d at 260; Commonwealth v. Phifer, 979 N.E.2d 210, 213-16 (Mass. 2012). The Seventh Circuit discussed the Chimel rationales more explicitly in Flores-Lopez, assuming that warrantless cell phone searches must be justified by a need to protect arresting officers or preserve destructible evidence, 670 F.3d at 806-07, and finding that evidence preservation concerns outweighed the invasion of privacy at issue in that case, because the search was minimally invasive, id. at 809.

A smaller number of courts have rejected warrantless cell phone searches, with similarly disparate reasoning. In United States v. Park, No. CR 05-375 SI, 2007 WL 1521573 (N.D. Cal. May 23, 2007), for example, the court concluded that a cell phone should be viewed not as an item immediately associated with the person under Robinson and Edwards but as a possession within an arrestee's immediate control under Chadwick, which cannot be searched once the phone comes into the exclusive control of the police, absent exigent circumstances, id. at *8. In State v. Smith, 920 N.E.2d 949 (Ohio 2009), the Ohio Supreme Court distinguished cell phones from other "closed containers" that have been found searchable incident to an arrest and concluded that, because an individual has a high expectation of privacy in the contents of her cell phone, any search thereof must be conducted pursuant to a warrant, id. at 955. And most recently, in Smallwood v. State, __ So. 3d __, 2013 WL 1830961 (Fla. May 2, 2013), the Florida Supreme Court held that the police cannot routinely search the data within an arrestee's cell phone without a warrant, id. at *10. The court read Gant as prohibiting a search once an arrestee's cell phone has been removed from his person, which forecloses the ability to use the phone as a weapon or to destroy evidence contained therein. Id.

. . .

The government admitted at oral argument that its interpretation of the search-incident-to-arrest exception would give law enforcement broad latitude to search any electronic device seized from a person during his lawful arrest, including a laptop computer or a tablet device such as an iPad. The search could encompass things like text messages, e.g., Finley, 477 F.3d at 254, emails, e.g., People v. Nottoli, 130 Cal. Rptr. 3d 884, 894 (Cal. Ct. App. 2011), or photographs, e.g., Quintana, 594 F. Supp. 2d at 1295-96, though the officers here only searched Wurie's call log. Robinson and Edwards, the government claims, compel such a finding.

We suspect that the eighty-five percent of Americans who own cell phones and "use the devices to do much more than make phone calls," Maeve Duggan & Lee Rainie, Cell Phone Activities 2012, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2 (Nov. 25, 2012), http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2012/PIP_CellActivi ties_11.25.pdf, would have some difficulty with the government's view that "Wurie's cell phone was indistinguishable from other kinds of personal possessions, like a cigarette package, wallet, pager, or address book, that fall within the search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement."

In reality, "a modern cell phone is a computer," and "a computer ... is not just another purse or address book." Flores-Lopez, 670 F.3d at 805. The storage capacity of today's cell phones is immense. Apple's iPhone 5 comes with up to sixty-four gigabytes of storage, see Apple, iPhone, Tech Specs, http://www.apple.com/iphone/specs.html (last visited May 16, 2013), which is enough to hold about "four million pages of Microsoft Word documents," Charles E. MacLean, But, Your Honor, a Cell Phone is Not a Cigarette Pack: An Immodest Call for a Return to the Chimel Justifications for Cell Phone Memory Searches Incident to Lawful Arrest, 6 Fed. Cts. L. Rev. 37, 42 (2012).

. . .

In short, individuals today store much more personal information on their cell phones than could ever fit in a wallet, address book, briefcase, or any of the other traditional containers that the government has invoked. See id. at 805 (rejecting the idea that a cell phone can be compared to other items carried on the person, because today's cell phones are "quite likely to contain, or provide ready access to, a vast body of personal data"). Just as customs officers in the early colonies could use writs of assistance to rummage through homes and warehouses, without any showing of probable cause linked to a particular place or item sought, the government's proposed rule would give law enforcement automatic access to "a virtual warehouse" of an individual's "most intimate communications and photographs without probable cause" if the individual is subject to a custodial arrest, even for something as minor as a traffic violation. Matthew E. Orso, Cellular Phones, Warrantless Searches, and the New Frontier of Fourth Amendment Jurisprudence, 50 Santa Clara L. Rev. 183, 211 (2010). We are reminded of James Otis's concerns about "plac[ing] the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer." Michael, supra, at 908 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

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