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After detailing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision of Riley v. California, holding that police generally need to get a warrant before they can search a cell phone or smart phone, it was reported that the Pennsylvania Superior Court has officially adopted Riley under PA law. (See recent blog post, "Warrantless Cell Phone Searches Ruled Unconstitutional," for a detailed analysis of the Riley decision.)
Commonwealth v. Stem
In Commonwealth v. Stem, police were called to a domestic violence incident at an apartment complex wherein Stem was the reported suspect. The responding officer was familiar with Stem and believed that Stem had been given a "no trespass" notice prohibiting him from being at the apartment complex.
After arriving at the complex and calling for Stem, the officer located him behind a kitchen sink. Upon taking Stem into custody for trespass, the officer removed a cell phone from his pocket. Stem was then handcuffed, placed in a patrol vehicle, and transported to the police station.
Once they were at the station and Stem was still in police custody, the officer opened Stem's smart phone, selected a picture icon, and uncovered what appeared to be child pornography after accessing the data. A search warrant was subsequently obtained and 17 photographs depicting child pornography were discovered. Stem was charged with 17 counts of child pornography.
Prior to trial, Stem filed a Motion to Suppress seeking to have the 17 photographs excluded from being presented as evidence against him at trial because the search of his cell phone incident to arrest was conducted without a warrant. The trial court granted his request and the Commonwealth appealed arguing the officer didn't need a warrant to conduct the search of Stem's cell phone.
Relying on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Riley v. California, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the warrantless search of Stem's cell phone incident to his arrest was conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment and unconstitutional.
About the Author:
Attorney Shawn M. Curry is a Criminal & DUI Defense Attorney. Based out of Harrisburg, PA, he is conveniently accessible to people facing criminal charges throughout Central Pennsylvania. With 8 years of criminal defense experience, Attorney Curry is committed to Helping People accused of crimes restore their life. Because he understands that when your criminal case ends, the rest of your life is just beginning.
If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced professional at Shawn Curry Law.