San Diego appeals attorney Patrick Ford will go before the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday to argue a case, California vs. Riley, involving John Riley, a San Diego gang member who’s serving a life sentence.
“He was convicted a second time based largely on what they found on his cell phone,” said Ford. “The question is whether or not going through the cell phone is constitutional? Our argument is that it’s not.”
Cell phones are a powerful personal computer holding private information.
“The police should not be allowed to search someone’s smartphone without getting a search warrant,” said Ford, adding even if the person whose phone is being searched ends up guilty of a crime, he says it’s not right.
“The fact that they find a crime never justifies the constitutional violation,” said Ford. “It would lead to rewarding people for being super aggressive and violating people rights.”
Ford along with Stanford attorney, Jeff Fisher, will have 30 minutes to present their case. They will be arguing to require law enforcement officers to first obtain a search warrant after showing probable cause.
“The privacy interest is at stake. There’s no harm in taking the few minutes and getting a search warrant,” he said.
Under current laws, officers can search personal belongings, including a backpack, purse or wallet, presumably for officer safety or drug possession. Ford pointed out that our founding fathers certainly didn’t anticipate emerging technology like the iCloud when drafting our privacy protection under the 4th Amendment.
The court will publish their opinion at the end of June. If they decide cell phones are protected, the Riley case could be overturned and he would be retried, but without the cell phone admissible as evidence.