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The Riley v. California Supreme Court Case Brief


The case Riley v. California investigated by the Supreme Court in 2014 is an excellent example of the unacceptable actions of police officers in investigating crimes. They were related to receiving access to private information, which is one of the most controversial provisions in terms of suitable measures. Therefore, it is critical to examine the impact of the decision as per this issue while respecting everyone’s standpoint.

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The Facts of the Case

This case included two different crimes investigated with the help of information found in the suspects’ cell phones. Their similarity allowed viewing them as the reason for examining the police officers’ actions when using them as evidence (Riley v. California, 2014). In the first situation, David Leon Riley was accused of driving with expired registrations tags and a suspended driver’s license (Riley v. California, 2014). During the search of his car, handguns were detected, and the materials in his phone confirmed the fact of belonging to the gang committing crimes. In the second situation, Brima Wurie was arrested for alleged drug dealing, and his phone allowed to detect his apartment’s location, where the substances were stored (Riley v. California, 2014). Both men appealed to the Supreme Court by claiming the unconstitutional nature of the officers’ decisions.

The Main Issue Before the Court

As per the case, the main issue before the Supreme Court was to determine whether the implemented measures of investigating crimes were within police powers or violated the principles of privacy of the affected persons. According to the description of these two situations, the primary challenge was to distinguish between legitimate actions of professionals applicable to confiscating physical objects and unauthorized access to personal information (Riley v. California, 2014). In other words, to accuse these individuals of committing corresponding crimes, they were supposed to obtain a warrant as digital data are attributed to their privacy rights.

Lower Courts: Decisions and Reasoning

The decisions of the lower courts on these two cases did not specifically consider the mentioned problem. In the case of Riley, they allowed using evidence received in such a dubious manner from the perspective of privacy during the trial and the retrial (Riley v. California, 2014). As a result, he was convicted of attempted murder and shooting on the grounds of mobile data by the California Court of Appeal (Riley v. California, 2014). Similarly, the trial court denied Wurie’s claim of unconstitutionality of the search of premises based on information from his phone to confirm his crime related to drug dealing (Riley v. California, 2014). These outcomes were conditional upon the violation of the Fourth Amendment providing for the impossibility of the described measures from the perspective of privacy while relying on People v. Diaz (Riley v. California, 2014). Thus, it was neglected due to attributing these cases to exceptions, which was the reasoning of the courts.

The Supreme Court: Decisions and Reasoning

After examining these two events, the Supreme Court concluded on the need for a warrant for receiving digital information from personal devices. Therefore, its interpretation of the power of police departments in this respect implied determining whether phones can be used as weapons, which is not the case with mobile data (Riley v. California, 2014). The reasoning, which led to this decision, was the possibility to prevent remote destruction of materials without accessing them (Riley v. California, 2014). In addition, the fact that phones can store much private information alongside evidence was crucial (Riley v. California, 2014). In this way, the Supreme Court’s involvement allowed clarifying similar occasions for the future.

The Position of The Concurring Opinion

In the ruling of this case, there were no dissenting opinions since the decision was made unanimously. Thus, according to their opinion presented by Chief Justice John Roberts, a warrantless search of phone data is not an acceptable practice for police officers since it does not mean any direct harm (Riley v. California, 2014). When physical threats are not implied by them or such a possibility is eliminated, any other actions in this regard should be viewed as unauthorized (Riley v. California, 2014). This stance led to the emergence of the private search doctrine, which states that only the government has the right to search without any conditions (Blizard, 2017). Therefore, these two situations provided the grounds for the proper conduct of people involved in criminal investigations.

My Position on The Decision

In my opinion, the Supreme Court made the correct decision because this aspect of the matter needed regulations. As follows from the experience of prosecutors and police officers, it is confusing due to the complexity of cases involving digital data (McClees, 2019). Hence, clear guidance for professionals is what was needed to ensure the compliance of their actions to appropriate practices. Moreover, it can help avoid mistakes similar to those made by professionals in the examined cases (McClees, 2019). These considerations allow concluding on the feasibility of the suggested solution.

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To summarize, “Riley v. California” is essential for understanding solutions, which can be applied to examining digital crimes. The failure of lower courts to provide guidance was compensated for by the Supreme Court’s decision, and it led to the establishment of limits for police officers. Thus, the unanimity in opinions alongside the justification of their conclusion determined the reasonability of developing proper regulations for similar occasions.


Blizard, I. (2017). Phone sweet phone: The future of the Private Search Doctrine following Riley v. California. The University of the Pacific Law Review., 49, 207-233.

McClees, E. (2019). How do police use cell phone data in criminal investigations? McClees Law Firm.

Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014).

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