Can police seize a cell phone on the basis that destruction of evidence is imminent?
Prelude: In the ongoing quest by some policemen to stop videorecording of them, one area of dispute is whether videotaping a confrontation with police, or the like, gives the police the right to immediately seize the recording device under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment on the theory that the party recording the confrontation might destroy the video before it can be subpoena’d.
Case: King v. City of Indianapolis, Dist. Court, SD Indiana 2013 (August 29, 2013)
Decision: No exigent circumstances here, at least not as a “matter of law.” Police officer defendants get no sj of qi in this case.
Comment: Have been waiting for this type of case, as policemen have been suggesting it on police message boards for years now. This is the first case I have seen squarely addressing the exigent circumstances argument. Good decision, IMO.
The Court finds that Mr. King has raised a significant question of material fact precluding summary judgment in Defendants’ favor. Defendants claim that the potential imminent destruction of evidence—i.e., the video Mr. King was recording—created an exigent circumstance justifying the seizure of the iPhone. Taking the facts most favorable to Mr. King, it is not clear that the destruction of evidence was imminent, nor that the seizure was motivated by a need for the evidence. The Court is not convinced that a reasonable officer would feel, first, that the evidence was necessary and, second, that there was a compelling need to act and no time to obtain a warrant for the evidence. Therefore, qualified immunity is not granted on this claim.