Longmire, Cell Phones, and the Fourth Amendment

Jun 2014
Longmire, Cell Phones, and the Fourth Amendment

On Monday night's episode, Sheriff Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming was questioning the mother of a missing murder suspect when her cell phone rang.  The Sheriff recognized a local number, and thinking it was likely the suspect, he asked for the phone.  Instead of handing it over, the mother threw the phone to the ground and tried to shatter it with her heels and a chair leg.


On Wednesday morning, the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court gave a unanimously rebuke to Longmire in Riley v. California, holding "The police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual."  The high court's opinion turned on privacy concerns regarding depth and breadth of information stored on a cell phone and on the servers that mirror its data.  The Court rejected arguments that the search of data on a cell phone incident to arrest falls within an exception to warrant requirements, either because it directly poses a danger to officers or poses a risk of the destruction of evidence. (Chimel v. California, 395 U. S. 752; United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218).


To advise our good Wyoming Sheriff, the Court suggests that officers seize and secure the cell phone to prevent destruction of evidence while seeking a warrant. "And once the law enforcement officers have secured a cell phone, there is no longer any risk that the arrestee himself will be able to delete incriminating data from the phone."


No word yet if next week's Longmire will cover Presidential Recess Appointments.