Most people are familiar with the "plain view" doctrine, which permits police officers to seize items without a warrant, if those items are clearly visible while the officer is performing his or her official duties. For instance, if an officer observes contraband after a lawful traffic stop, that contraband can be immediately seized. What happens when the officer "feels" an item; does the same doctrine apply? Beginning with the case of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), courts have not hesitated to apply the plain feel exception to warrantless searches.
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.
If you are arrested in Jacksonville, you will be taken to the John E.Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility, otherwise known as the Jail. The jail is a multi-story beige complex located at 500 East Adams Street, between Bay and Adams in downtown Jacksonville. Our office is located about a block north of the jail at 215 North Washington Street. You will most likely arrive in the back of a police cruiser driven into the sally port of the jail. From there, in handcuffs, you will be walked into the jail to begin the booking process. You will be searched, finger printed, your mug shot will be taken, your clothes and property will be confiscated, you will change into a jail jumpsuit, and you will be put into a jail cell with other individuals who have been arrested.
In Maryland v. King, ___ U.S. ___ (June 3, 2013) the Court upheld the warrantless swabbing of individuals arrested for what the Court characterized as "serious" offenses. Left open by the Court's decision are the questions of 1) what constitutes a serious offense; and 2) whether the warrantless seizure of DNA samples is permissible for individuals convicted of misdemeanor offenses, which, by definition, can result in incarceration of one year or less. Unfortunately, as the result of the Court's sweeping language in the King decision, lower courts may have a difficult time in distinguishing between a "serious" offense justifying the warrantless sampling of DNA evidence and the routine misdemeanors for which hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for or convicted of every year in this country. Thus, what the Court apparently views as a non-intrusive law enforcement practice may have a much greater impact on the constitutional rights of individuals than the Court could have envisioned, a problem highlighted by Justice Scalia in his dissent.