Wurie was a Fourth Amendment case involving the warrantless search of a cellular phone pursuant to an arrest. The government argued that, any time it makes an arrest, it has the right to search a person’s cell phone without a warrant as a matter of course, “incidental” to the arrest. Wurie was convicted based upon information found in the search, and he sought U.S. Supreme Court review.
CLDEF’s amicus curiae brief, in support of the respondent, explained that the Fourth Amendment is to be viewed as protecting private property — not subjective “expectations of privacy.” The government may have a property interest in arresting a person when he has committed a crime. To effect that arrest, our brief argued, the government may act as a bailee of personal property found on the person, such as wallets, keys, and cellular phones. However those limited rights do not give the government any further property interest over the cellular phone, such as the right to look at call logs, text messages, and pictures.
On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court issued an opinion reaching the correct result, although for the wrong reasons. The Court did not look at the property principles involved. Instead, the Court decided the case on privacy grounds, holding that the individual’s privacy interest in his cell phone outweighs the government’s interest in gathering evidence of crime.