Today, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled unanimously that search and seizure of the contents of a cell phone during an arrest is an unreasonable search and seizure and is, therefore, unlawful. Riley v. California, 573 U.S. ___ (2014). This ruling resolves a longstanding circuit split over the cell phone search-incident-to-arrest doctrine, and mirrors the Florida Supreme Court's holding in Smallwood v. State, 113 So. 3d 724 (Fla. 2013), which we previously blogged about here.
In a case of great significance, this week the Florida Supreme Court rejected the use of evidence obtained through the warrantless search of a cell phone. In Smallwood v. Florida, ___ So.3d ___, 38 Fla.L.Weekly 5271a (Fla. May 2, 2013), a case originating in Duval County, the accused was charged with armed robbery of a convenience store. After identifying a potential suspect in the robbery, an officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Smallwood and, during the course of his arrest, seized a cell phone from him. Without first obtaining a search warrant, the officer proceeded to access and search data on the phone, which led to the discovery of five photographs allegedly linking Mr. Smallwood to the robbery. These photographs were admitted at Mr. Smallwood's trial and he was convicted.