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Based on that evidence, Riley was convicted and sentenced to at least 15 years in prison; the conviction was upheld at the state appeals court, and the state Supreme Court refused to reconsider it.
Several experts agree with Fisher that the Riley appeal is more pertinent, both because of today's smartphone technology and the broader police searches that could reveal unrelated data. The Pew Research Center estimates that 56% of Americans have a smartphone, 31% seek medical information on their cellphones, and 29% use them for online banking.
"The Fourth Amendment must be sensitive to new technologies enabling police to easily obtain massive amounts of personal information that, at least as a practical matter, would previously have been inaccessible," Fisher argues in his petition.
What both sides agree on is that the high court should tackle the issue. In the Wurie case, judges on both sides of the ruling appealed for Supreme Court intervention.
"The differing standards which the courts have developed provide confusing and often contradictory guidance to law enforcement," said 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sandra Lynch in her ruling.
The history of Supreme Court cases on phone technology has been similarly confusing. In 1928, the court said wiretapping didn't require a warrant. By 1967, it said bugging a phone booth certainly did.
Decisions on Fourth Amendment cases also have gone back and forth. The 1969 case Chimel v. Californiaand 1973's U.S. v. Robinson set the standard for what police could search upon an arrest. But in the past few years, courts from California to Texas to Florida have split over the issue of cellphones and digital content.
"The new frontier of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence continues to expand as technology advances," Matthew Orso, a North Carolina attorney, wrote in a 2010 paper. "This constant expansion creates difficulty for courts in applying decades-old case law to factual scenarios never before considered."
Not far behind the issue of cellphone searches is another legal conundrum: whether police can get the location of cellphone users from service providers without a warrant. Lower courts have split on that issue as well, making a Supreme Court showdown likely in the future.
Increasingly in recent years, the high court has been asked to take on issues so complex or newfangled that they temporarily stump the justices, who live in a marble palace of ivory paper and quill pens. (continued...)
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