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May 12, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Considers Constitutionality of Searches of Arrestees' Cell Phones

On April 29, 2014, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two criminal cases that have asked the Court to determine whether searching a person's cell phone at the time he is arrested is a proper "search incident to arrest," or an unreasonable search that infringes on the arrestee's rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. One of those cases - U.S. v. Wurie - is on appeal from the First Circuit in Massachusetts.

In Wurie, the police arrested the defendant in connection with a drug deal. Among other items that were on the defendant at the time of the arrest, the police seize two cell phones from him. After they were seized, the police observed that one of the cell phones repeatedly received phone calls from a number identified as "my house" on the external caller ID screen. A few minutes later, one police officer opened the cell phone and looked at the defendant's call log. In doing so, the officer observed a photograph of a woman holding a baby, which was set as the phone's wallpaper. The officer then navigated the cell phone to determine what phone number was associated with the calls from "my house."

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