Supreme Court limits cellphone searches after arrests

Cellphone Searches are not necessarily constitutional.

Cellphone Searches


WASHINGTON — In a strong defense of digital age privacy, a unanimous Supreme Court today ruled that police may not generally search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants.

Cellphones are powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest, Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court. Because the phones contain so much information, police must get a warrant before looking through them, Justice Roberts said.

“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Justice Roberts said.

The court chose not to extend earlier rulings that allow police to empty a suspect’s pockets and examine whatever they find to ensure officers’ safety and prevent the destruction of evidence.

The Obama administration and the state of California, defending the cellphone searches, said cellphones should have no greater protection from a search than anything else police find.

But the defendants in these cases, backed by civil libertarians, librarians and news media groups, argued that cellphones, especially smartphones, are increasingly powerful computers that can store troves of sensitive personal information.

In the cases decided today, one defendant carried a smartphone, while the other carried an older flip phone.

Justice Roberts said the comparison to packages of cigarettes and other items that were at issue in the earlier cases is not apt.

A ride on horseback and a flight to the moon both “are ways of getting from Point A to Point B, but little else justifies lumping them together,” he said.

Authorities concerned about the destruction of evidence can take steps to prevent the remote erasure of a phone’s contents or the activation of encryption, Justice Roberts said.

One exception to the warrant requirement left open by the decision is a case in which officers reasonably fear for their safety or the lives of others.

The two cases arose following arrests in San Diego and Boston.

In San Diego, police found indications of gang membership when they looked through defendant David Leon Riley’s Samsung smartphone. Prosecutors used video and photographs found on the smartphone to persuade a jury to convict Riley of attempted murder and other charges. California courts rejected Riley’s efforts to throw out the evidence and upheld the convictions.

The court ordered the California Supreme Court to take a new look at Riley’s case.

In Boston, a federal appeals court ruled that police must have a warrant before searching arrestees’ cellphones.

Police arrested Brima Wurie on suspicion of selling crack cocaine, checked the call log on his flip phone and used that information to determine where he lived. When they searched Wurie’s home and had a warrant, they found crack, marijuana, a gun and ammunition. The evidence was enough to produce a conviction and a prison term of more than 20 years.

The appeals court ruled for Wurie, but left in place a drug conviction for selling cocaine near a school that did not depend on the tainted evidence. That conviction also carried a 20-year sentence. The administration appealed the court ruling because it wants to preserve the warrantless searches following arrest.

The justices upheld that ruling.



Distracted Driving

Don’t underestimate Distracted Driving.  For those of you who have children driving or about to drive, take a look at this.  For those of you who have been driving for years, maybe its time to reevaluate how we set examples for others.

Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety. These types of distractions include:

  •     Texting
  •     Using a cell phone or smartphone
  •     Eating and drinking
  •     Talking to passengers
  •     Grooming
  •     Reading, including maps
  •     Using a navigation system
  •     Watching a video
  •     Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

The number of people killed in distraction-affected crashes decreased slightly from 3,360 in 2011 to 3,328 in 2012. An estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, this was a nine percent increase from the estimated 387,000 people injured in 2011.

10% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.

Drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes. 

At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.

Engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.

Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.

Headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use.

A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive. 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.



Juvenile Lifers and the Supreme Court

Juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania lose appeal to high court

Juvenile Lifers

 Steve Townsend, who represents Christina, who has never had a single misconduct during his nearly 39 years of incarceration with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, was again disappointed in the decision not to take the case Monday.

“At some point in time, they’re going to have to address the issue,” Mr. Townsend said.

“For Cristina, I don’t think it’s over. His appeal isn’t final so there’s still light at the end of the tunnel.”

The rejection is a blow to advocates for as many as 500 inmates across the commonwealth who were sentenced to mandatory life terms before they turned 18, as well as to as many as 2,000 others across the country who were watching to see what might happen if the Supreme Court had heard arguments on Cunningham v. Pennsylvania.

Still, hope remains among attorneys and academics watching the issue, as they believe the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will have to decide the issue.

Read more:

Homewood Shooting Justified

The Homewood shooting is justified under state and federal review of self defense law.  Mr. Zappala is correct.  Research is consistent and unanimous when it comes to action v. reaction time. This is why I cannot understand why they are pushing so hard on my client, who was robbed in the high crime area of Homewood.  People are shot in the back often due to the reaction of trained officers and security guards.  It takes our brains approximately 2 seconds to disengage once we feel that our life is in jeopardy.

Take a look at Mr. Carter’s case.  Click HERE

By Steven C. Townsend

DA says officer was justified in fatal shooting in Homewood




By Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


A Pittsburgh police officer was justified under state law to open fire when he killed a man fleeing from police in April, the Allegheny County district attorney said today.


Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said he has turned the file of materials compiled during the investigation into the April 21 death of Adrian Williams, 29, over to the US Attorney’s Office for a review at the federal level.


Mr. Zappala said two officers from the city’s Zone 5 station were patrolling on Hamilton Avenue in Homewood when they spotted a gun inside a Chevy Malibu belonging to a woman who had some sort of relationship with Williams.

District attorney: Police officer justified in shooting


A Pittsburgh police officer was justified in killing a man who was fleeing from police in April, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said today in a news conference. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/4/2014)


About 3 a.m., officers spotted Williams get into the car and activated their lights and sirens, signaling him to stop, Mr. Zappala said,


He said Williams sped away and the attempt to stop Williams became a “priority call” because a gun was involved. He said that meant all available officers joined the chase, and that some hit speeds in excess of 80 mph while trying to arrest Williams.


The car Williams was driving crashed in Wilkinsburg. Williams got out of the car, took the gun and ran behind some houses while two officers chased him, Mr. Zappala said. He said Zone 5 Officer Christopher Kertis ran in front of the houses, parallel to Williams, and the pair encountered each other when Williams got ready to turn the corner.


“I think he was surprised that the officer was there right away,” Mr. Zappala said of Williams.


He said Williams fell when he ran past some debris and Officer Kertis yelled twice for him to drop his weapon, according to audio and video of the shooting and interviews with officers who responded.


“The gun came up at the car, at the police,” Mr. Zappala said. Less than two seconds elapsed before Officer Kertis fired twice, hitting Williams, he said.


He said Williams threw the weapon and Officer Kertis fired four more times.


About five seconds elapsed between the time that Williams emerged from behind the houses and the time that Officer Kertis stopped firing, Mr. Zappala said. He said that research studies indicated the average reaction time for a human is 1.8 seconds and he thought that might factor into why Officer Kertis shot Williams after he dropped the gun.


“I think it’s reaction time,” Mr. Zappala said when asked why the officer might have fired shots after Williams threw the gun.


Mr. Zappala said Section 508 of Pennsylvania state law allows officers to use force when someone is committing a felony — such as fleeing and eluding — and possesses a weapon. He emphasized that state law on self-defense for officers hinges more on whether someone they are seeking possesses a weapon than on how the suspect used it.


“I have to look at what the officer saw,” Mr. Zappala said.