Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts


In 1973, the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Robinson granted police broad authority to search arrestees’ personal property. Robinson’s broad rule has not been significantly limited and appears increasingly anachronistic in an age of rapidly advancing mobile technologies. Whether upholding or invalidating such searches, courts have relied on reasoning that ignores or conflicts with Robinson. This Article illustrates four problematic contrivances used by state and federal courts: (1) the comparison of mobile devices to “containers; (2) the misinterpretation of United States v. Chadwick’s concept of “property not immediately associated with the person;” (3) the unjustifiable application of Arizona v. Gant’s “reason to believe” rationale; and (4) the baseless categorical exclusion of cell phones from the search incident doctrine. In light of the public’s apparently high expectation of privacy for information stored on mobile devices, this Article recommends two possible solutions for restricting police authority: (1) return to an exigency-based rationale following Chimel v. California or (2) look to state legislatures to curb police powers through law making.

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