The Missed Opportunities of Riley v. California

19 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2015

See all articles by Ric Simmons

Ric Simmons

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: February 19, 2015


In the landmark case of Riley v. California, the Supreme Court prohibited law enforcement officers from searching a defendant's cell phone as part of a search incident to a lawful arrest. The unanimous decision was widely regarded as a major victory for defendant's rights, but in fact the Court missed two significant opportunities when deciding this case. First, the Court failed to repair the critically flawed search incident to arrest doctrine, and second, the court failed to provide useful guidance for law enforcement officers faced with emerging technologies. Like the Court’s other search incident to arrest opinions, Riley’s rationale was confused and inconsistent. And like the Court’s other Fourth Amendment technology cases, Riley’s arguments focused too much on the technical details of a specific new technology and not enough on basic Fourth Amendment principles. As a result, the true legacy of Riley is likely to be further confusion both in rules and in underlying doctrine.

Keywords: Riley, Wurie, Cell phones, Fourth Amendment, Search incident to lawful arrest

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Simmons, Ric, The Missed Opportunities of Riley v. California (February 19, 2015). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 12, No. 253, 2014, Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 287, Available at SSRN: or

Ric Simmons (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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