Tagged: search and seizure

Know Your Rights!

POST WRITTEN BY: Danielle Petretta (J.D. ’17), Pace Law School

On November 18, 2014, the Criminal Justice Society, Criminal Justice Institute and Alumni Relations Office at Pace hosted Know Your Rights symposium. This event was created by Pace Criminal Justice Clinic students under the leadership of Professor David N. Dorfman.

Students were broken into groups, and each group participated in various skits demonstrating the appropriate responses during police street stops, stop and frisks, car searches, cell phone searches and more. While extremely amusing, the skits were followed by an important presentations during which students addressed legal issues involved in each of the skits. One of the problems is that many people do not know their rights and the available appropriate responses. The students’ skits conveyed the importance of being an informed citizen.

Think of some of the following statements and ask yourself if you know the answer:

  • Did you know that if a police officer approaches and asks you general questions, in a non-accusing manner, and you do not wish to answer, you can choose not to answer and walk away? (though doing so requires a level of courtesy)
  • Did you know that you do not have to consent to a car search without a warrant if a police officer stops your car, and that 80% of people only consent because they are uninformed of their right to refuse? (assuming that the officer does not have probable cause such as seeing drugs or firearms)
  • Did you know that cell phones cannot be searched incident to arrest without search warrant that is signed by a judge?

These are few of the questions that plague our justice system on a daily basis, which is why it is important to be aware of our rights, especially as young students in the midst of a technological revolution.

It is no secret that we live in an era where technology is rapidly changing. However, the law has not yet reached the 21st century, so there are many unsettled situation. In the meantime, our court systems battle these complex issues on a daily basis that arise with the advent of new technology. Think about the issues regarding cell phones searches, GPS devices, computers, social media, etc…. How is the law to handle the use of technology and searches while not infringing on person’s expectation of privacy? This is where the difficulty lies. We know that during a car stop, a police officer is allowed to search whatever is in plain view. On the other hand, what is the protocol for searching a computer that is left open and unattended? A cell phone that is seized? Can information found on social media websites be used against a person, and if so, how? What if the social media site is set to private? Do levels of privacy differ on the Internet? Should the same procedures currently applied in searches of cars, houses or people be applied to technology? These are some of the questions presenting much difficulty in articulating new laws.

For now, Riley v. California, decided just this year, is the only precedent we have regarding cellphone searches incident to arrest. An officer may seize a cell phone from an individual after his/her arrest, but may not open the phone or search through the phone without a valid search warrant. Here is an interesting excerpt from the Supreme Court decision: “Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be carried on an arrestee’s person. Notably, modern cell phones have an immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and generally constituted only a narrow intrusion on privacy. But cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos” Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct 2473, 2478 (2014). It is clear that new law is warranted, but it must be balanced against our expectation of privacy.

The Know Your Rights event was an eye opener. It would be interesting to see how this event can be incorporated into the public or in other schools, perhaps even high schools. I think it would be an extremely informative and fun experience for young adults to become informed about what is unfolding around them. Personally, I was made aware of the consequences of the technology that we as a society have become so obsessed with and reliant on, while also realizing that the courts face a huge task of creating new laws addressing these new issues. I would urge everyone to become informed not only as to their own rights but also about what is currently being debated in our courts, because we will be the ones who will become affected in the future by the laws that are being created at this moment.

For your convenience, take a moment to begin and read the Know Your Rights! Top Ten Takeaways compiled by Professor David N. Dorfman.

Know Your Rights Event at Pace

KnowYourRighsFall2014The Pace Criminal Justice Society (CJS), the Pace Criminal Justice Institute (PCJI) and the Pace Alumni Relations Office are co-hosting an event titled Know Your Rights on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 4:30-5:30 PM in the Preston Hall Tudor Room during which our Criminal Justice Clinic Students under the leadership of Prof. David N. Dorfman will explore the appropriate responses to and the underlying issues that arise from police car stops, street stops, cell phone searches and more. Immediately after this event, the Annual Criminal Practice Networking Reception will take place at 5:30-6:30 PM in the Student Lounge, across the hall from the event, during which alumni, local prosecutors and defense counsel are invited to learn about the resources of the Pace Criminal Justice Institute, meet with other criminal law practitioners, and get to know and talk with students interested in pursuing a career in criminal practice.

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.

NY Court of Appeals Addresses the Scope of the Exigent Circumstances Doctrine

POST WRITTEN BY: Prof. Peter Widulski, Assistant Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program and the Coach of International Criminal Moot Court Team at Pace Law School.

The Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” requires the police to obtain a warrant prior to searching someone’s person, house, papers, or effects for evidence of a crime, subject to certain exceptions that courts have acknowledged. A major exception is that warrantless searches and seizures are constitutionally permissible when required by “exigent circumstances.” While this exception is well recognized, courts are frequently confronted with cases in which the scope of this exception is an issue.

In 2012, New York’s Second Department Appellate Division was confronted with an appeal in People v. Jenkins in which New York City police officers, while on patrol, heard gunshots coming from the rooftop of an apartment building. Upon entering the building, the officers observed a man holding a firearm who then fled into one of the apartments in the building, along with another man. When no occupant of the apartment responded to the officers’ request to open the apartment’s locked door, the officers entered after breaking down the door with a sledgehammer.

The officers’ forcible and warrantless entry into the apartment and seizure of the two men was, given the circumstances observed by the officers, justified under the exigent circumstances exception. At issue in the case was further action by the officers in seizing and searching a silver box in which they found the gun that had been fired, which they had not otherwise been able to find on either of the men or in plain view.

The Second Department, reversing the lower court’s suppression decision, held that the exigent circumstances that justified the officers’ entry into the apartment and seizure of the suspects extended as well to justify the search of the silver box.

In a unanimous opinion issued on October 16, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals noted that by the time the officers seized and searched the silver box, they had already handcuffed the men, so there was no danger that the defendant would destroy or dispose of the gun. Nor was there any urgency for further searches to protect the officers or any of the other occupants of the apartment against harm. Therefore, any search of the silver box would have required a warrant.


  • People v. Jenkins, 100 A.D.3d, 954 N.Y.S.2d 183 (App. Div. 2d Dep’t 2012), rev’d, 2014 Slip. Op. No. 148 (N.Y. Oct. 16, 2014).

Warrantless Cellphone Search Decision: Resources

Last week, on June 25, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Riley v. California, a decision combining California and Massachusetts cases challenging the warrantless search an arrestee’s cellphone incident to arrest. The Court unanimously concluded that the police are not entitled to search a cell phone incident to arrest without a warrant, absent exigent circumstance, and as such must seek a properly executed warrant to search a cellphone.  This decision was almost instantaneously covered by a number of newspapers, reporters, and bloggers, and we bring you a short compilation of some of the online coverage.

The U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

Pre-Decision Coverage

Post-Decision Newspaper Articles & Blog Posts

Click here, to explore recent (2014 on) scholarly articles on the subject.