In Fourth Amendment analysis, warrants are often required to search for evidence of criminal wrongdoing. However, under the search-incident-to-arrest warrant exception, once an individual has been placed under custodial arrest, certain warrantless searches may follow, such as a search for weapons or evidence possibly within the arrestee's reach. In Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the proposed extension of the search-incident-to-arrest exception to cell phones, thereby requiring a warrant to search a phone's digital contents. Although Riley recognized that arrestees have reduced expectations of privacy, the privacy concerns in a cell phone's digital data were simply too great to allow such data to be searched without judicial approval.
This article examines Riley's impact on searches of K-12 and college students' cell phones as an incident to a violation of law or school rule, and proposes heightened Fourth Amendment protections in both contexts. First, this article argues that although college students enjoy reduced Fourth Amendment protections when campus safety and educational concerns predominate, those concerns do not apply to a cell phone's digital contents. Unlike a weapon hidden in a student's dorm room, a cell phone's digital data cannot harm anyone, and routinely inspecting such devices would not enhance the educational environment. Accordingly, this article contends that the cell phones of college students deserve the full protections of a warrant and probable cause, as in Riley. For K-12 students, this article proposes a solution that accounts for the unique privacy concerns in cell phones while simultaneously preserving the school system's need for freedom from judicial supervision. Thus, this article proposes that schools adopt an internal system of checks and balances marked by independent review of a school official's desire to search a student cell phone and documented reasons for performing the search.
Marc C. McAllister,
Rethinking Student Cell Phone Searches,
Dick. L. Rev.
Available at: https://ideas.dickinsonlaw.psu.edu/dlra/vol121/iss2/2