Campus reacts to Supreme Court ruling on cellphones

Tyler Dragoni,
Politics Editor

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled that cell phones are much more than just devices for communication.

Accordingly, the court dictated, a warrant approved by a neutral judge must be sought by police before searching the phone of an arrested individual.

The decision was one in a slew of controversial judgments handed down by the high court in the last days of June, which marked the end of the court’s 2013-2014 session. Writing for the majority of the court’s justices, Chief Justice John Roberts explained in Riley v. California that “Digital data stored on a cell phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm a[n] arresting officer…”

The court’s Riley decision was based on an amalgamation of cases that included instances of police officers using an individual’s cell phone to charge a person with crimes that were not a part of the original reason why the individual was stopped by law enforcement.

David Riley, the petitioner, was pulled over for expired registration tags, when it was subsequently revealed he had an expired license. A search of his car and then his phone lead to Riley being charged in connection to a gang killing.
Brima Wurie, another petitioner in the case, was arrested for making an apparent drug sale. At the police station Wurie’s cell phone rang multiple times with Wurie’s home number calling.

Officers then traced the number to Wurie’s residence, where law enforcement executed a thorough search. Wurie was eventually charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and, only after a search of the residence, intent to distribute crack cocaine.

The fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from ‘unreasonable’ searches and seizures. In the case of cell phones, Roberts wrote, “reasonableness [then must] generally require the obtaining of a judicial warrant.”

Shaquin Tutt, a junior at California State University, East Bay majoring in Kinesiology recalled of the last time he was arrested: “Let’s just say I happened to not be the person of whom I had an ID card for.”

Police soon detained Tutt and searched through his personal belongings. “They took possession of my wallet. They then opened my phone and said ‘Whose phone is this then?’ They then looked through it…all of it… removed the battery and put it in a plastic baggy.”

Tutt continued, “The officer then tried to open my tablet but soon found out it was password protected. He then confiscated it.”

“The ruling almost certainly applies to searches of tablets and lap top computers,” says Adam Liptak of the New York Times. But, “Privacy comes at a cost” explained Roberts, “Cellphones…can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals.”

CSUEB’s chief of police Sheryl Boykins stated that these cases wound up at the Supreme Court “because departments of municipalities overstepped their ground.”

Boykins agrees with Roberts in putting personal privacy rights first. “I’m not only a cop, I’m also a private citizen. I wouldn’t want anyone looking at my phone.”

Boykins, mother to a teenage son, is keenly aware that how her department operates directly affects children and parents of other families.

“The more rights safeguarded the better,” said Boykins. “Plus, cops need to know how to investigate. Doing clean and thought out investigative work, including getting a warrant helps the profession and helps in turn the system as a whole.”

Tutt says he was concerned with the prospect of the aging justices making a ruling on police and cell phones, but was relieved by the decision.

“Thankfully they got it right this time,” Tutt sighed, “but that’s like my grandma deciding case law on technology… I love my grandma but truthfully these judges are old!”

The Supreme Court of the United States will reconvene for its regular 2014-2015 session on the first Monday of October.