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The Supreme Court is expected to resolve growing division in state and federal courts over whether cellphones deserve special protection.
More than 90 percent of Americans own at least one cellphone, the Pew Research Center says, and the majority of those are smartphones -- essentially increasingly powerful computers that are also telephones.
In the two Supreme Court cases being argued Tuesday, one defendant carried a smartphone and the other an older and less advanced flip phone.
In San Diego, police found indications of gang membership when they looked through defendant David Leon Riley's Samsung smartphone. Prosecutors used video and photographs found on the smartphone to persuade a jury to convict Riley of attempted murder and other charges. California courts rejected Riley's efforts to throw out the evidence and upheld the convictions.
Smartphones also have the ability to connect to the Internet, but the administration said in its brief that it is not arguing for the authority to conduct a warrantless Internet-based search using an arrestee's device.
In Boston, a federal appeals court ruled that police must have a warrant before searching arrestees' cellphones. Police arrested Brima Wurie on suspicion of selling crack cocaine, checked the call log on his flip phone and used that information to determine where he lived. When they searched Wurie's home, armed with a warrant, they found crack, marijuana, a gun and ammunition. The evidence was enough to produce a conviction and a prison term of more than 20 years.
The appeals court ruled for Wurie, but left in place a drug conviction for selling cocaine near a school that did not depend on the tainted evidence. That conviction also carried a 20-year sentence. The administration appealed the court ruling because it wants to preserve the warrantless searches following arrest.
The differences between the two cases could give the court room to craft narrow rulings that apply essentially only to the circumstances of those situations.
The justices should act cautiously because the technology is changing rapidly, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in her court filing.
Harris invoked Justice Samuel Alito's earlier writing that elected lawmakers are better suited than are judges to write new rules to deal with technological innovation. (continued...)
© 2014 Associated Press under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.
Posted: 2014-04-30 @ 2:20pm PT
The Supreme Court will allow warrantless searches of all computers and cell phones. The court has long held that the 4th amendment has outlived its usefulness. Soon police will search your house whenever they want and without a warrant or probable cause. Thanks to law and order conservatives and their bull views!! The court even ruled last year that police can take your DNA if you jay walk. Unless of course you are a judge, prosecutor, cop, or any other government worker.