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U.S. Supreme Court ruling on cellphones and Wichita Falls

Supreme Court...Michigan's Kirsten Luna uses her smartphone while court announces decision.
Supreme Court...Michigan's Kirsten Luna uses her smartphone while court announces decision.

This week's U.S. Supreme Court decision that law enforcement officers must obtain a search warrant before viewing the contents of a person's cellphone applies to Wichita Falls law enforcement officials. The Wichita Falls Police Department has wisely already been following the guidelines set down in this latest ruling from the land's highest court so officers here won't have to make any changes in this city of 105,000.

"Cellphones are powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest," Chief Justice John Roberts said.

He further said, "Because the phones contain so much information, police must get a warrant before looking through them."

The unamimous Supreme Court decision handed down Wednesday ruled that obtaining a search warrant is necessary for searching an individual's cell phone because of the vast amount of information on a person's cellphone, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, June 26.

Warrantless searches have been justified in the past by the need to protect officers from hidden weapons and to prevent suspects from destroying evidence. Those exceptions to obtaining a warrant do not apply when it comes to searching an individual's cellphone, according to Roberts.
Privacy advocates hailed the decision as a sign the court will protect constitutional privacy interests of all Americans from the powers of modern technology. Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday's ruling is "revolutionary."

Two cases were before the court this week regarding cellphones. A federal appellate court in Boston had found that a cellphone search violated the Fourth Amendment protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures." However, courts on the other side of the United States reached a different conclusion. State courts in the Golden State held that anything found on an individual could be searched under traditional exceptions to the warrant requirement.

In San Diego, police found evidence of gang membership when they looked through defendant David Leon Riley's Samsung smartphone. A jury later convicted Riley of attempted murder and other charges based in part on video and photographs found on the smartphone. California appellate courts upheld his convictions.

In Boston, police arrested Brima Wurie on suspicion of selling crack cocaine. They were able to use information found on his flip phone to determine where he lived. They then obtained a warrant and went to his home where they found crack, marihuana, a gun and ammunition. Wurie was convicted and sentenced to more than 20 years in the penitentiary.

Modern cellphones hold for many Americans the privacies of their lives, according to the Chief Justice.

Sgt. John Spragins of the Wichita Falls Police Department said the police could see this ruling coming and have already been requesting a second search warrant in most efforts to obtain data from cellphones, according to an article today's Wichita Falls Times Record News newspaper.

The Wichita Falls Police Department under the leadership of Chief Manuel Borrego will not have any of their cases reversed because of cellphone searches. The WFPD deserves credit for a job well done. The leadership has exhibited exceptional foresight.

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