Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Texas CCA beat SCOTUS to punch on cell-phone search issue

The US Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that law enforcement may not search the contents of cell phones incident to arrest without a warrant. This decision will be much-heralded as a victory for privacy, and rightly so. But I wanted to take a moment to point out that, for once, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was ahead of the curve on this one, ruling 8-1 in February that law enforcement couldn't search the contents of arrestees' cell phones without a warrant after they'd been booked into the jail. Grits criticizes the CCA when I think they get things wrong - to the occasional annoyance of more than one member of the court - so it's worth acknowledging when they got it right. This time they did.

MORE: See a SCOTUSBlog symposium on the new case.

8 comments:

ckikerintulia said...

Hurray for CCA on this one.
Hurray for SCOTUS on this one. First time I've applauded SCOTUS since before last time Grits applauded CCA.

doran said...

yeah, not too many opportunities for cheering-on either Court. But Grits is right: Despite a desire to say something about blind hogs/truffles, we should give credit where it is due.

Grits, I think your analysis of WHY the CCA got it right on this matter, but so wrong on others, would be worth reading.

joshuaism said...

It being an 8-1 en banc decision, is it safe to assume they got it right the first time they heard it as well?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The CCA doesn't do panels of smaller judges like federal appellate courts, this was the case.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Doran, I'll give it some thought. I have several competing theories and am not sure I can offer a compelling thesis. I also want to read the new SCOTUS ruling.

Anonymous said...

doran, if 9 SCOTUS judges and 8 CCA judges voted this way, maybe it's just a legal no brainer. Does anybody know if the courts both ruled that way for the same reasons?

Joshua Cottle said...

@ Anon 10:03 AM (et al):

The Supreme Court of the United States in Riley v. California dealt with a distinct problem from the CCA's case in State v. Granville.

In Riley, SCOTUS ruled that in most cases, police need warrants to search information on a cell phone in searches incident to arrest. "Searches incident to arrest" (SITA) is a term of art elaborated in other cases, but mainly, it deals with searches conducted immediately following arrest and within the proximity of the arrest. See Chimel v. California, U.S. v. Robinson, and Arizona v. Gant. Chimel cleared SITA because of particular risks - officer safety and loss of evidence. Robinson extended the risks to ALL custodial arrests, even if the cops couldn't specify a single risk. Gant applied the SITA to cars where the arrestee is not "secured" and can stash evidence somewhere. Riley refused to extend Robinson to cell phones, and found that the privacy costs involved in SITA searches of cell phones outweigh the benefit of legitimate government interests as laid out in Chimel. SCOTUS explicitly maintained the availability for a warrantless search of cell phones under the exigency exception.

In Texas, however, there was no SITA. It is said over and over in that case that the issue at hand was not a SITA, but was instead a search of jail inventory after the fact of arrest and detention. So all the concerns SCOTUS juggled in Riley do not apply to those dealt with in Granville.

Anonymous said...

I guess a cell phone really isn't a pair of pants.