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Smartphones Dial Up A Controversy Over Search Warrants

Publication Date: 
October 01, 2013
Charlotte Observer
Michael Doyle

An article by The Charlotte Observer's Michael Doyle explains an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding an unlawful search of a cell phone which is being spearheaded by Professor Jeffrey L. Fisher. 

David Riley’s smartphone ratted him out.

San Diego police used photos and videos found on Riley’s Samsung Instinct device to connect him to a gang-related shooting. Convicted on attempted murder and other charges, the 22-year-old is doing time at California’s Kern Valley State Prison.

Now, he’s calling the Supreme Court.


But his case has some definite buzz. His lead appellate lawyer is Jeffrey L. Fisher of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, who argued four cases before the high court last term. Only three attorneys appeared more often during the 2012 term.


“In light of the frequency with which people are arrested with cell phones and the judiciary’s confusion over whether the police may search the devices’ digital contents, this court’s intervention is critical,” Fisher and his colleagues wrote in a brief.


“Modern cell phones provide ready access to a vast array of personal data, and are distinct from the types of possessions, such as cigarette packages and footlockers, this court has previously considered,” Fisher said in the brief. “For one thing, while physical containers face obvious space-related constraints, cell phones are capable of storing a virtually limitless amount of information in a single, compact device.”