The Supreme Court is the highest court that deals with cases that challenge the interpretation of the constitution, additionally the deal with cases whose decision has been appealed by petitioners from the lower courts. In most case decision made at the Supreme Court are used as bench marks on which other related cases are based (Amsterdam, 1973). This therefore makes the decisions of the supreme court very important is it may have long term effects on other cases. Cases at the Supreme Court can be traced downwards through the lower courts to the source and various decisions analyzed through the various levels of courts before reaching this stage. In this court cases, interpretation of articles in the constitution is done by a bench of judges before a decision is arrived at. The decision is usually an input of the judges present at the bench however, an interpretation is based on votes whereby the majority wins the day, and their decision is upheld ( Lasson, 1970). Whenever a crime occur, the police and the relevant authorities gather evidence using different techniques on which their case will be based upon, however, the case and the processed used to collect the evidence must be in accordance with the rule of law and the constitution. Whenever the process of arrest, investigation, and gathering of evidence is questionable then a constitutional crisis occurs, therefore calling for the interpretation of the various clauses (Amsterdam, 1973).
This paper seeks to trace the case of Riley v California as p[resented in the Supreme Court, starting from the origin of the arrest and the charges. Additionally, it analyses the issue surrounding the case and the decisions of the other courts before the case reached the Supreme Court. The paper also analyzes the decision made by the court and the considerations that led to the decision, further, it discusses the standards set by the ruling and the social and political dimension that the ruling introduced.
Origin of the Case
The case of Riley v California originated from a traffic offence that led to the discovery of other serious offences. The petitioner, Riley was stop by traffic police for a normal check while he was driving. On being pulled over, the police discovered that he was driving with a registration that had expired; further his driving license had been suspended (Roberts, 2014). This offence required that the police impound his vehicle, however, prior to impoundment; a search is usually carried out to determine if the components of the vehicles are present. This helps in ensuring that future complains does not arise over missing components and liability claims.
During this normal search, the police discovered two firearms in the vehicle, this raise suspicion, and the police decided to take up his cellphone for further search where he discovers suspicious contacts and messages. The officer then arrests Riley and takes him to the station. Later in the station, a police specialized in gang crime scrutinizes the smart phone to find evidence that Riley may be a member of a criminal gang (Roberts, 2014).
The officer discovers suspicious content in the cellphone which includes; mobile contacts that would have the abbreviation ‘CK’, the abbreviation was interpreted to mean ‘Crip killers’ which is a term associated with criminal gang (Roberts, 2014).. Further the police discover a video footage of a male person spatting as another encourages him with the term ‘blood’, this term is a slag used by the same criminal gang. Finally, a photo was discovered of Riley in front of a vehicle that the police believed had been involved in previous shooting encounter.
Charges and procedural posture
After the search and the evidence gathered, Riley is charged with the counts of crimes, these are; being in possession of concealed weapons. Secondly, he is charged for committing a crime that benefited a gang and finally, he is charged for shooting at a vehicle that was occupied (Roberts, 2014). However, before he was taken for trial he made an attempt to impound the evidence from his phone a decision that was denied. The court later found him guilty of the three offences and he is sentenced fifteen years imprisonment term.
This decision did not go well with Riley, who immediately filled for an appeal of the ruling at the court of appeal. At the court of appeal, Riley’s’ defense team argued that it was against the constitution to use evidence that violated the Fourth Amendment and therefore the charges should not be based on evidence generated from his phone. Further, the defense team argued that it was unjust for the police to search his phone which is a privet and confidential property (Roberts, 2014). However, this court upheld the previous decision and allowed the use of cellphone evidence in the court. Therefore, the court found Riley guilty of the offence and therefore the decision was on changed.
The controversial issues in the case
This case is an example of a case that arises due to the interpretation of the constitution and the extent to which various articles should be applied. In this particular case, the Fourth Amendment is the point of controversy and the extent to which the amendment protects citizens (Lasson, 1970). The fourth amendment is designed to protect civilians from unprecedented search and violation of privacy by the police or any other authority for whatever reason. However, this amendment is not cast on stones since there exist situation where urgent search is necessary and therefore obtaining of search warrant will be ignored. The police too and the public may be in danger and therefore prompting for a search without a warrant (Roberts, 2014).
The Supreme Court was faced with the question of trying to establish whether searching of cellphone was in violation of the Fourth Amendment given the situation in which the police officers were in and the nature of case involved. Further, the court was to make a decision on how to handle private property like cellphone when they are of importance in gathering of evidence while at the same time ensuring that the credibility of the evidence is not compromised. Finally, the court was required to make a decision on whether to discard the evidence depending on the nature they were obtained and therefore make a ruling on the case of Riley or uphold the initial decision by the other courts (Roberts, 2014).
The Court Decision, the Rational of the Decision and public policies
The court decision
The Chief Justice while reading the ruling of the court which was reach upon by a majority of the bench indicated that the Fourth Amendment which is intended to protect civilians must be applied (Roberts, 2014). The court passed a resolution that the fourth amendment prevents citizens against unwarranted search therefore ensuring their privacy. Further, a resolution was passed that required that a warrant must be obtained in case a search is required. Nonetheless, in the translation of the same amendment, the court provided for exceptional situations that the warrant does not apply. In case where the life of the police and the public is at risk, police officers may carry out search without having warrants. On the other hand where an emergency situation requires a search, police are also allowed to carry out the search without a search warrant and this will not be a violation of the fourth amendment.
Rational of the Decision
In the situation of Riley, the court rejected the petitions request; this is because of the existence of a policy that allows police to confiscate material that are in possession. Nonetheless, the court defined conditions on how phones should be handled in order to protect the credibility of the evidence. Cellphone is a personal property that is classified as minicomputer which contains so much personal information and therefore, searching a cellphone without warrant is discouraged. On the other hand, information in the cellphone can easily be lost, erased or even modified, hence, the credibility of information from cellphones must be protected (Roberts, 2014). This can be done through the following processes; firstly, courts will accept evidence from such search in case the arrestee is identified immediately as the owner of the phone. Nonetheless, the challenge to be addressed is the system of retrieving the information from the phone since the gadget must be in active mode so as to access its content a situation that requires the suspects cooperation therefore thesegadgets are not effective source of evidence. However, when the police officer is convinced that a phone search is important and urgent then an unwarranted search is allowed though this may not guarantee an arrest.
Public policies demand that privacy is a paramount requirement to all human being and that everyone deserve a life that is free from unnecessary search (Amsterdam, 1973). The violation of Fourth Amendment is a concern that should not be overlooked at the expense of security people and police who may want to do unnecessary search. Mobile phones are very private gadgets that contain confidential information; therefore, searching mobile phone is a guarantee that privacy has been violated. Hence, the ruling classifying cellphone as very private property is a ruling that strengthens the Fourth Amendment. This however, does not rule out the reality that cellphone can be used to coordinate crime and promote criminal activities. Therefore a precise format on how to carry out phone search is required so as to protect privacy while at the same time preventing crime that is coordinated on phone.
Additionally, information stored in mobile phones can easily be manipulated or erased if it lands in the wrong hands or the hands of people with malicious interest. This compromises the credibility of the evidence that is collected from cellphones until a proper and trustable system of retrieving the information without possibility of tempering id developed. In order to ensure the protection of privacy legislatures should develop laws and guidelines that will clearly draw the line on how much intervention can police make before violating the fourth amendment
Reaction to the Ruling and its Impact
After the ruling many professionals reacted to the decision and the guidelines narrated by the court in arriving at the decision. Among them is Justice Samuel Alito, like many who are concerned with privacy, he concurred with part of the decision and differed with the other. He acknowledges the judgment passed indicating that it was the best for the situation and the circumstance in which the search was done. However, he argues that the fourth amendment should not be modified to accommodate violation of privacy and therefore encourage unnecessary search from police. A cellphone, he argues, is a very private device that contains very confidential information that some cannot even be put on hard copy and allowing search of phones without warrant it a total violation of privacy. Finally, he recommends that legislatures should develop laws and guidelines that will clearly draw the line on how much intervention can police make before violating the fourth amendment, this is because neglecting the matter and just leaving it the hands of the courts may see the violation of the fourth amendment.
Impact of the ruling
In most case decision made at the Supreme Court are used as bench marks on which other related cases are based. This therefore makes the decisions of the supreme court very important is it may have long term effects on other case. The riling tried to uphold the application of the fourth amendment in the situation searching for evidence. However, institutions and schools should critically analyze the situation and refrain from unprecedented phone search on students. Schools must realize that the ruling requires that prior to a search, adequate information on the information that is required. Further warrant of search are required before conducting the search, this implies that getting information may be impossible incase suspects are tipped of possibility of search. Further, in case a search does not yield the required evidence then will be a total violation of the fourth amendment. Schools should further ensure that the search is carried out in applications that are likely to contain the required information to prevent a situation where private information turns public.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court is the highest court and is mandated to deal with cases that petitioners feel the constitution has been violated. The decisions made in this court act as bench marks upon which other similar cases are based on, and are used as reference points for other cases. After an unwarranted search and the evidence gathered, Riley was charged with the counts of crimes, these are; being in possession of concealed weapons. Secondly, he is charged for committing a crime that benefited a gang and finally, he is charged for shooting at a vehicle that was occupied. The evidence was gathered from his cellphone which is a private property protected by the fourth amendment. However, before he was taken for trial he made an attempt to impound the evidence from his phone a decision that was denied. This case is an example of a case that arises due to the interpretation of the constitution and the extent to which various articles should be applied. In this particular case, the Fourth Amendment is the point of controversy and the extent to which the amendment protects citizens.The case of Riley v California is a case that required the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment which protects against harassment arising from warrantless search from police and authorities. The amendment is concerned with protecting the privacy of people and unnecessary intrusion into private property, example houses, or business by police and other authorities. Riley in his petition complained of violation of Fourth amendment and the search on his cellphone which is a private property without warrant. Before reaching the Supreme Court, the case had been heard by to other courts, the court of Appeal upholding the decision of the lower court that allowed the use of evidence derived from the unwarranted search of Riley phone. The Supreme Court in its decision acknowledged that police can search suspects without warrant incase the life of police and the immediate public is at danger. In the situation of Riley, the court rejected the petitions request; this is because of the existence of a policy that allows police to confiscate material that are in possession. Nonetheless, the court defined conditions on how phones should be handled in order to protect the credibility of the evidence. Justice Samuel Alito, like many who are concerned with privacy, he concurred with part of the decision and differed with the other. He acknowledges the judgment passed indicating that it was the best for the situation and the circumstance in which the search was done. However, he argues that the fourth amendment should not be modified to accommodate violation of privacy and therefore encourage unnecessary search from police.
Amsterdam, A. G. (1973). Perspectives on the Fourth Amendment. Minn. L. Rev., 58, 349.
Lasson, N. B. (1970). The history and development of the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution (No. 2). Da Capo Pr.
Roberts, C. J. (2014). Riley v. California. W. St. L. Rev., 42, 339.