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Riley v. California

Supreme Court of the United States

April 29, 2014, Argued 1; June 25, 2014, Decided

13-132, 13-212


 [**2480]  [***437]  [*378]   Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

These two cases raise a common question: whether the police may, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested.

In the first case, petitioner David Riley was stopped by a police officer for driving with expired registration tags. In the course of the stop, the officer also learned that Riley’s license had been suspended. The officer impounded Riley’s car, pursuant to department policy, and another officer conducted an inventory search of the car. Riley was arrested for possession of concealed and loaded firearms when that search turned up two handguns under the car’s hood. See Cal. Penal Code Ann. §§12025(a)(1),  [****10] 12031(a)(1) (West 2009).

An officer searched Riley incident to the arrest and found items associated with the “Bloods” street gang. He also  [*379]  seized a cell phone from Riley’s pants pocket. According to Riley’s uncontradicted assertion, the phone was a “smart phone,” a cell phone with a broad range of other functions based on advanced computing capability, large storage capacity, and Internet connectivity. The officer accessed information on the phone and noticed that some words (presumably in text messages or a contacts list) were preceded by the letters “CK”—a label that, he believed, stood for “Crip Killers,” a slang term for members of the Bloods gang.

At the police station about two hours after the arrest, a detective specializing in gangs further examined the contents of the phone. The detective testified that he “went through” Riley’s phone “looking for evidence, because . . . gang members will  [**2481]  often video themselves with guns or take pictures of themselves with the guns.” App. in No. 13-132, p. 20. Although there was “a lot of stuff” on the phone, particular files that “caught [the detective’s] eye” included videos of young men sparring while someone yelled encouragement using the  [****11] moniker “Blood.” Id., at 11-13. The police also found photographs of Riley standing in front of a car they suspected had been involved in a shooting a few weeks earlier.

Riley was ultimately charged, in connection with that earlier shooting, with firing at an occupied vehicle, assault with a semiautomatic firearm, and attempted murder. The State alleged that Riley had committed those crimes for the benefit of a criminal street gang, an aggravating factor that carries an enhanced sentence. Compare Cal. Penal Code Ann. §246 (2008) with §186.22(b)(4)(B) (2014). Prior to trial, Riley moved to suppress all evidence that the police had obtained from his cell phone. He contended that the searches of his phone violated the Fourth Amendment, because they had been performed without a warrant and were not otherwise justified by exigent circumstances.  [***438]  The trial court rejected that argument. App. in No. 13-132, at 24, 26. At Riley’s trial, police officers testified about the photographs and videos  [*380]  found on the phone, and some of the photographs were admitted into evidence. Riley was convicted on all three counts and received an enhanced sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

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573 U.S. 373 *; 134 S. Ct. 2473 **; 189 L. Ed. 2d 430 ***; 2014 U.S. LEXIS 4497 ****; 82 U.S.L.W. 4558; 42 Media L. Rep. 1925; 24 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 921; 60 Comm. Reg. (P & F) 1175; 2014 WL 2864483

DAVID LEON RILEY, Petitioner (No. 13-132) v. CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES, Petitioner (No. 13-212) v. BRIMA WURIE

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.


People v. Riley, 2013 Cal. LEXIS 3714 (Cal., May 1, 2013)United States v. Wurie, 728 F.3d 1, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 9937 (1st Cir. Mass., May 17, 2013)

Disposition: No. 13-132, reversed and remanded; No. 13-212, 728 F. 3d 1, affirmed.


phone, cell phone, arrest, searches, arrestee, privacy, incident to arrest, digital, pocket, seized, stored, search incident to arrest, warrantless search, law enforcement, cases, law enforcement officer, police officer, destruction, remote, arresting officer, privacy interest, the Fourth Amendment, photographs, encryption, wallet, officer safety, incriminating, electronic, technology, weapons

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Search & Seizure, Scope of Protection, Warrants, Criminal Law & Procedure, Warrantless Searches, Search Incident to Lawful Arrest, General Overview, Extent & Manner of Search