Sample Essay on Digital Information Court Case

Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie

Facts about the case

This is a case involving two individuals, Riley and Wurie (Robinson, 2014). Riley was found to have violated traffic rules in the highway; the police noticed him and arrested him in the process prior to impounding the vehicle (Robinson, 2014). In the process of scrutinizing the vehicle to see if the driver had the required documents, the police noticed something on the phone. The phone was taken away from the suspect and upon scrutiny of the digital data; police discovered that Riley had connections with a criminal gang that had been responsible for a series of crimes and shootings. On the other hand, Wurie was found selling drugs, and after arrest his phone revealed a criminal connection with a house in another location, a search warrant for the house was issued where police found drugs (Robinson, 2014). It is opined that he was later charged with the offense which he tried to overturn on the grounds of the evidence used (Robinson, 2014).

Issues on the case

The issues surrounding the case comprised as to whether suspect search could protect the officers from harm and allow suspects to confiscate the evidence, whether an individual considered a third party could help the suspect in wiping out incriminating evidence data. It was argued that search was necessary as a prerequisite to protect the officers from harm by disarming the suspects and also avoid loss of evidence that could be destroyed by hostile individuals. Another issue that formed part of the case was whether there was a justification for the police officers to conduct search with the fear that the suspects could destroy the evidence (Robinson, 2014). Search area limitation was another issue, it was opined that how could a police officer conduct search in areas that are not legitimately concerned with the suspect at hand.

The decisions and reasoning

The judges formulated a decision that information contained in cell phones was not part and parcel of the search incident and as such a warrant ought to have been obtained in the first place. The decision supported the assertion that searching digital data contained in a cellphone was not lawful in meeting the interest of the government and also as a way of protecting life of an officer who is in the process of securing piece of evidence to be used in court. As to whether suspects are able to harm the officers, the judges decided that the suspect in that particular position was not able to harm the officer as the vehicle had already been impounded (Robinson, 2014). As to whether third parties could interfere with the evidence, the court decided that third parties were not part of the search and that authorities had to come up with ways of protecting evidence. The reasoning behind the decisions was that the court observed that privacy right of the suspects were violated massively, the exposure of private digital data in the cellphones of the suspects was big that was incomparable to simple pocket search.

Separate opinions

The judges concurred in an almost unanimous decision that a search warrant was required to search digital data stored in the cell phone, the court highlighted that there were threats to individual privacy especially if such a right was violated through digital data search. The judges asserted that searching private data of an individual could expose the private life of an individual; according to them this was more serious than a simple pocket search or residence scrutiny (Robinson, 2014). The legal opinion of Justice John Roberts supported the assertion that a third party wiping digital data from the cellphone could make no difference in the case either for a warrantless search (Robinson, 2014). He went further to opine that cell phones were complex to certain degree based on both quantitative and qualitative information they could carry. Another judge in the case pronounced that current cellphones were complex and had the ability to store and hold information that was more than the current hard copy evidence and so there was need for new legislations to be formulated to provide the much needed distinction on issues of using digital evidence materials in court (Robinson, 2014).


Historically, the notion of police searching a suspect to prevent loss of evidence dates back to 1969 when a court ruled that it was the responsibility of an officer to secure evidence and prevent harms that may arise from suspected criminals. However, the case highlights how it is complicated to handle cases involving technology and how to handle generational case issues (Hoog and McCash, 2011).This case is important to students as it highlights on how challenging it is to handle cases involving digital materials, the appellate courts are also enlightened on how to go about certain issues touching on privacy. The government and legislators also need to come up with new pieces of legislation to be used in handling digital evidence arising from the new technological equipment (Androulidakis, 2012).


Androulidakis, I. I. (2012). Mobile phone security and forensics: A practical approach. New

York: Springer.

Hoog, A., & McCash, J. (2011). Android forensics: Investigation, analysis, and mobile security

 for Google Android. Waltham, MA: Syngress.

Robinson David J. (2014). Criminal Law: The U.S. Supreme Court Says ‘No’ to Cell-Phone

Searches Incident to Arrest. Volume 102, Number 9, Page 438. The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers.