Tagged: NYPD

Professors, Prosecutor, and Police Chief Address Cell Phone Searches after Riley

POST WRITTEN BY: Rebecca Arbolino (’16), Pace law School

On October 7, 2014, Pace Law School CLE and the Pace Law School Criminal Justice Institute co-hosted “Cell Phone Searches after Riley: Investigative and Evidentiary Issues.” The CLE commenced in the Gerber Glass Law Library Moot Court Room. Streaming video of the event was available online from Pace Law School.

Pace Law Professors Bennett Gershman, David Dorfman, and David Bender, along with two distinguished Pace Alumni, discussed the implications of the recent Supreme Court decision in Riley v. California.  Professor Bender is not only a professor at Pace Law but also a sole practitioner with extensive experience in technology and privacy litigation. Thomas Kapp, an Assistant District Attorney for Bronx County, and Chris McNerney, Esq., the Chief of Police for the Town of Greenburgh, added insight and practical depth to the scholarly panel. The moderator, Pace Law School 3L Annmarie Stephanic, began the event with a recorded webinar conversation between Prof. Gershman, a former defense litigator and prosecutor and A.D.A. Thomas Kapp. After the webinar, the panelists discussed Fourth Amendment issues after Riley. Finally, the panelists answered questions from attendees.


The webinar elucidated the main issues presented by Riley. Professor Gershman remarked upon Riley as a “landmark case.”  Riley is the first Supreme Court decision about police intrusion upon technological privacy, and Gershman found that the decision’s unanimity was “startling.”

A.D.A. Kapp explained that the practical implications for policing are minor: most prosecutors find it prudent not to use evidence acquired through warrantless cell phone searches. Rules for New York State and other states for searches incident to valid arrests required warrants to search cell phones before Riley in the absence of exigent circumstances or consent. According to Kapp, since the scope of Riley’s holding is limited to cell phones, warrantless searches of digital devices such as flash drives and digital cameras are still permissible.

Gershman agreed with the limited scope of Riley, but applied the reasoning therein to other devices like laptops: if an item’s immense storage capacity heightens the privacy intrusion of searching that item, then searches of digital devices similar to cell phones involve a heightened individual privacy interest. Under the Fourth Amendment reasonableness balancing test for warrantless searches, the question is whether any legitimate government interest outweighs the intrusion upon individual privacy interest. If the heightened privacy interest in cell phones expressed in Riley applies to similar devices like laptops, then the scales may tip toward requiring warrants to search those similar devices.

Kapp called Riley “a seminal case for the digital world” because the Supreme Court finally recognized the individual “right to digital privacy.”

Panel Discussion

Following the showing of the webinar, the panel discussion began with Prof. Bender explaining the rapid changes in privacy law. Privacy law changes in response to developments in technology such are drones and data mining.

Prof. Dorfman ignited the conversation with a criminal defense perspective: although police can often obtain a search warrant quickly, problems specific to searches of cell phones arise in applying for and issuing warrants. For example, if an officer arrests someone for selling drugs and he discovers a cell phone on the arrestee’s person, then is there a sufficient nexus between the drug selling and cell phone to establish probable cause for searching the cell phone? Prof. Dorfman further remarked upon Riley’s impacts for particularity in warrants to search cell phones: if cell phones contain immense amounts of data and are subject to heightened privacy interests, then do warrants to search cell phones require more particularity than they did before Riley?

Police Chief McNerney explained that officers in New York State almost always apply for a search warrant to search a cell phone. In applying for a search warrant, the officer asks for permission to search all possible areas in which he may obtain evidence of the crime, and the judge limits the officer’s requests. Satisfying the particularity requirement is thus the province of judges.

A.D.A. Kapp predicted that search warrants for both cell phones and other digital devices like computers will soon be subject to heightened particularity requirements. Although the particularity requirement presents specific problem in the context of digital searches, judges may decide to limit the scope of digital searches by issuing particularized warrants thereof.

Prof. Gershman mentioned the doctrine of minimization. Minimization requires particularity in order to avoid the search of information that is either privileged or unrelated to the crime.

Despite the Circuit Split about the particularity requirement for digital search warrants, Prof. Bender suggested the following procedure as a way to satisfy the doctrine of minimization. Officers create a bitstream copy, or mirror image, of the data to be searched. After a neutral third party conducts the search of the bitstream copy, the third party then provides officers with only information that is both non-privileged and relevant to the offense.

Prof. Dorfman further elaborated upon the framers’ concerns about “general searches.”  The doctrine of minimization and the particularity requirement are designed to prevent such searches. The Riley court explained that a search of a person’s cell phone is more intrusive than a search of his house is. The problem with particularity in searches of cell phones arises because of the plain view doctrine. For example, if officers are conducting a valid search for contraband ‘X’, then officers can seize contraband ‘Y’ so long as contraband ‘Y’ is in plain view during the search for contraband ‘X’. Evidence in plain view of crimes irrelevant to the authorized search is especially problematic in searches of cell phones with immense storage capacities.

According to Chief McNerney, the constitutionality of cell phone searches ultimately “boils down to reasonableness.” Prof. Dorfman explained, however, that “reasonableness” is not all-or-nothing: an individual who uses technology does not necessarily relinquish his right to privacy.

Prof. Gershman and the panelists ended the discussion with the framers’ intent: the framers themselves could not have imagined a device like a cell phone. Surprisingly, though, the Supreme Court originalists agreed that cell phones deserve heightened privacy protection. The Supreme Court pushes principles until they become illogical. In United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (1973), the assumption that defendant had no expectation of privacy in his cigarette pack rang true. In Riley, however, the assumption that defendants had no expectation of privacy in their cell phones became illogical.

Q &A Session

An astute attendee asked about the significance of Riley’s warrant requirement, given the various exceptions thereto. Namely, if warrantless searches are permissible when no exigent circumstance exists, the owner consents to the search, or the officer conducts an inventory search, then does the warrant requirement change anything?

Although the panel understood exigent circumstances as a valid exception to the warrant requirement for nearly any search, panelists opined about consent and inventory searches. Chief McNerney explained that consent can be problematic.  The NYPD, for example, required specific, written consent forms instead of verbal consent.

A.D.A. Kapp wondered if the exception for inventory searches applies to cell phones: if cell phones are containers, then inventory searches thereof ensure that the owner cannot later claim that data is missing. Riley does not address whether a warrantless inventory search to catalog cell phone data is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Prof. Dorfman responded that an inventory search cannot be a ruse for an investigative search: the police have the burden to create a non-investigatory procedure for inventory searches.

Prof. Dorfman also inquired about whether warrantless searches of other digital devices stored in a vehicle fall under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Riley requires a warrant for cell phones within a legal automobile stop, even when officers have probable cause to believe that there is contraband inside the automobile. Riley does not, however, address whether searches of similar devices require warrants within the context of the automobile exception.

Another attendee asked about Riley’s rejection of applying the container analogy to cell phones: are there further implications for searches of similar, non-container devices? The panel agreed that Riley’s rejection of the container analogy to cell phones implies changes in the future of digital searches, but expressed that Riley does not illuminate the nature of those changes. Prof. Dorfman explained the impossibility of applying the constitutional text and framers’ intent to searches of intangible things like digital data: such application is like trying to fit “a square peg into a round hole.”  Prof.  Bender said that it may be best for the legislature to answer such questions.

Prof. Gershman concluded the discussion stating that both the judiciary and the legislature are “behind the curve perpetually” in the light of rapidly changing technology.

Scheindlin Moves to Fight Removal but Her Motion Is Denied

Last Thursday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied Judge Shira Scheindlin’s motion to vacate the order of the panel, which removed Judge Scheindlin from presiding on any further proceedings in Floyd v. City of New York, 12 Civ. 2274 (SAS) 

This Court of Appeals decision is the latest twist in the legal drama that ensued following the Floyd decision.

In its decision on Thursday, “the panel clarified that it had not ruled that Scheindlin violated the code of conduct, only that the ‘appearance of partiality required reassignment.”

As this issue gains widespread attention – drawing in the likes of lawyers, law professors, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and police unions – it remains to be seen how the Second Circuit will proceed.  But one thing is certain:  the institutional reputation of this previously unusually well respected court has suffered.


Stop and Frisk – the Fate of Floyd

The Floyd case has taken unexpected turns.  After Judge Scheindlin’s decision finding the NYPD stop and frisk practices unconstitutional, the City appealed.  Although the City did not raise the question of Judge Scheindlin’s recusal, the Second Circuit ordered her removed from the case and her ordered remedies stayed.  Then Bill De Blasio was elected mayor of New York City, pledging, among other things, to halt the stop and frisk policy and presumably to withdraw the appeal.  Now Judge Scheindlin has moved to be reinstated.

Where does all of this leave the Second Circuit’s order removing Judge Scheindlin.  Although the order was based, in part, on a finding that Judge Scheindlin had interfered with the Court’s case assignment procedures, the City was present when this alleged impropriety occurred and never moved to recuse her; nor did the City’s appeal raise the issue before the Second Circuit.   Presumably, if the Mayor-elect withdraws the appeal, though, the order of removal will disappear.  Or will it?  What happens to the ordered remedies that have been stayed?  What happens to Judge Scheindlin’s motion?

One thing that is clear is that this entire procedure is unprecedented.  What is likely to happen? What is in limbo?  The thought arises:  why did the well-respected Second Circuit panel reach out to remove Judge Scheindlin knowing that Bill DeBlasio was so likely to win and so likely to withdraw the appeal?  Is this confusion good for the system and its perception by the public?

Related Readings

Judge Asks to be Put Back on New York ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ Case, Reuters, Nov. 6, 2013.
Joseph Goldstein, Court Blocks Stop-and-Frisk Changes for New York Police, N.Y. Times, Oct. 31, 2013.
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Order of Oct. 31, 2013, staying the District Court’s January 8, 2013 Floyd “Opinion and Order,” as well as the August 12, 2013 Floyd “Liability Opinion” and “Remedies Opinion” and removing Judge Shira A. Scheindlin after concluding that the District Judge violated the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, Canon 2.

Symposium on the Future of Stop and Frisk

The Criminal Justice Society at Pace Law School held a symposium last Tuesday (Oct. 22, 2014) on the future of stop and frisk in New York City.  Prof. David Dorfman moderated, and the panelists were Prof. Randolph McLaughlin, of Pace Law School; Mayo Bartlett, a Pace alum and private criminal defense attorney in White Plains; Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute;  and Police Officer David Rullo, a Pace student and a police officer in New Jersey.

The panelists began by debating the merits of Judge Scheindlin’s decision in Floyd, finding that the NYPD’s stop and frisk practices unconstitutional.  The disagreement was not so much over the Judge’s holding as it was over the facts upon which it rested, with Ms. MacDonald asserting that some of the fact finding was not supported by the evidence.  There was also disagreement about whether the Judge was correct in concluding that the racial breakdown of stop and frisk should reflect population demographics, as opposed to the demographics of who commits crimes.

Substantial discussion concerned the need for training police officers: Officer Rullo thought training on the constitutional dimensions of stop and frisk was inadequate and Ms. MacDonald thought the police should have training on how to treat people with respect.  Ultimately, Ms. MacDonald raised a concern that hamstringing the police in stop and frisk would lead to more crime, while Mr. Bartlett and Prof. McLaughlin focused on how many innocent people are arrested under current stop and frisk practices.  All of the panelists were concerned about the impact of stop and frisk – or of stopping the stop an d frisk policy – on the community.

The panelists also proposed solutions. Mr. Bartlett emphasized the need for incorporating police officers into the community.  A reform of the stop and frisk policy based on police presence would foster community relationships that could help police officers deter crime.

With the NYC mayoral election looming, many people worry about whether the crime rate will rise after Floyd and with a new administration.  Many people are debating whether we should reintroduce community policing and, if so, what the impact will be on the community.

NYPD Stop and Frisk Practice Held Unconstitutional

On Monday, August 12, 2013, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin held that the NYPD’s stop and frisk practice was unconstitutional.  Citing the large percentage of stops that resulted in no further legal action, Judge Scheindlin stated that police officers diluted the legal standard necessary to conduct a stop and frisk and, therefore, detained individuals illegally.