SD Man's Case at Heart of Supreme Court Cellphone Ruling

A San Diego man is at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that police can’t seize people’s smartphones without a warrant.

David Leon Riley was pulled over in San Diego in 2009 and his pockets were searched. Police going through his cellphone found references to a street gang. Based in part on photos and videos they found, they charged Riley in connection with a shooting.

He was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Now, following the Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday, his conviction might have been reconsidered. In the unanimous decision, the highest court ruled that police cannot look through your call records, contacts, emails, texts or photos without obtaining a judge-issued search warrant.

How it stands now, police can search anything on a person when they make an arrest. In the decision, the justices determined that smartphones can contain such vast private information, they are different than other things we carry.

A legal analyst said without the critical evidence in the Riley case, it’s possible the charges wouldn’t have stuck.

“Without that evidence, there’s at least a possibility that the man wouldn’t have been convicted at all,” legal analyst Dan Eaton said. “So yes, this landmark decision very much has its roots in San Diego.”

Riley's attorney, Pat Ford, said upon hearing the news he called the prison Wednesday morning to tell his client about the ruling.

"We asked the litigation coordinator to slip a note in front of him that said 'We won,' so he's on Cloud 9 for sure," Ford said.

Now, Riley's case will go to the California Court of Appeals and could be tried again.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Police Department is sending an order to send to all department personnel about the requirements for searching cell phones based on the Supreme Court decision. 

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