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Name: U.S. v. Lustig
Case #: 14-50549
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 07/29/2016

Good faith exception to exclusionary rule applies to search of arrestee’s cell phones because binding appellate precedent at the time of the search provided a reasonable basis to believe the search was constitutional. An officer arresting Lustig searched several cell phones found in Lustig’s pockets. After his motion to suppress evidence was denied, Lustig pleaded guilty to several federal offenses. He appealed. Held: Affirmed. In Riley v. California (2014) 134 S.Ct. 2473, the Court held that a warrantless search of an arrestee’s cell phone violates the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the searches of the cell phones found in Lustig’s pockets were unconstitutional. However, when police act with an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that their conduct is lawful, the rationale behind the exclusionary rule loses much of its force and the rule does not apply. In Davis v. United States (2011) 564 U.S. 229, the court held that such a reasonable, good-faith belief exists when searches are conducted in “objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent.” The search of Lustig’s pocket cell phones was conducted prior to the decision in Riley. At that time, U.S. v. Robinson (1973) 414 U.S. 218, held that a full search of the person incident to arrest is an exception to the warrant requirement and reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Thus, Robinson constituted binding appellate authority that made the search of Lustig’s pocket phones reasonable.

The erroneous denial of the motion to suppress evidence found during a search of cell phones that were in arrestee’s car mandates that he be afforded the option to withdraw his plea. At the time of Lustig’s arrest, officers searched cell phones found in Lustig’s car. Sixteen months after his arrest, police obtained a warrant and conducted further searches of the phones. Lustig challenged the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence derived from the car phone searches. The prosecution conceded the searches were unconstitutional, but claimed the error was harmless because the offenses to which Lustig pleaded were not based on evidence gathered from the search of the car phones. However, the erroneous suppression ruling could have affected Lustig’s decision to plead guilty. The denial of the motion to suppress the car phone searches was reversed and the case remanded to give Lustig the opportunity to withdraw his plea.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: