Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

How many times do we see the private search as an issue.  The upset spouse searches the computer to find evidence of infidelity, the Sailor’s friend or roommate comes across contraband CP on a computer and looks further, etc., etc., etc.

A responsible law enforcer would take the information to get a search warrant or command search authorization.  But that doesn’t always happen.  What does happen is that the law enforcer or someone in command goes and looks for themselves.  The question then becomes whether that is a search or is it a continuation of a private search.  If a private searcher shows the law enforcer exactly what they saw and that alone, there may not be an unlawful search.  But what happens if the law enforcer does more than strictly replicate what the private searcher did.  So Orin Kerr has some information for us in the Washington Post.

[T]he 11th Circuit handed down a new computer search decision,United States v. Johnson, that both sharpens and deepens the circuit split on how the private search doctrine of the Fourth Amendment applies to computers. Johnson isn’t a likely candidate for Supreme Court review. But it does leave the private search doctrine in computer searches ripe for Supreme Court review in other cases working their way through the courts.

See his article here in a 2005 article.

Because the Fourth Amendment applies only to the government and its agents, the Fourth Amendment is not triggered when private parties not associated with the government conduct searches. When a private party conducts a search and finds evidence of crime, the private party often goes to the police and voluntarily shows the police what she has found. The Supreme Court uses what I have called the “private-search reconstruction” doctrine to regulate what the police are allowed to see without a warrant. The police can reconstruct the private party search, seeing what the private party saw, but they can’t exceed the search the private party conducted.

On to the important legal question: When a private party searches a computer, sees a suspicious file and reports the finding to the police, what kind of government search of the computer counts as merely reconstructing the private search and what kind of search counts as exceeding the private search?

Read on for Orin Kerr’s thoughts in his article.

Several relevant items for you this weekend.

Orin Kerr has this post at The Volokh Conspiracy. In part:

Computer searches usually happen in two stages. Agents take the computer, make a mirror image copy of its hard drive on a government storage device, and then search the image. Officers do this to ensure the integrity of the original data. Searching can alter the contents on the computer, so working from a copy preserves the original.

This two-step procedure raises an interesting puzzle for consent doctrine. What happens if a target consents to a computer search, the agents quickly make a copy, and then the target revokes consent before the image is searched? Everyone agrees that the officer can’t search the target’s own computer after consent was withdrawn. But can the officer search the copy? Is the copy now the government’s to search regardless of the suspect’s revocation, or should the revocation of consent cover both the original and the copy?

h/t CrimProfBlog.

This is not an uncommon situation in military cases.  I suspect we all have cases where the computer is taken and imaged, and then we send in a notice of representation and notice of withdrawal of consent.

And see also, Edward J. Imwinkelried (University of California, Davis – School of Law) has posted The Ambivalence in the American Law Governing the Admissibility of Uncharged Misconduct Evidence IProceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Evidence Law and Forensic Science, Forthcoming) on SSRN.

 

[D]istrict courts generally enjoy a fair amount of discretion in choosing the procedures they find most helpful for resolving pretrial motions, including whether to take the matter on the briefs, hear oral argument, or hold an evidentiary hearing. And often enough courts will choose to err on the side of granting more process than might be strictly necessary in order to ensure not only that justice is done but that justice is seen to be done. Whether because of intuition born of experience that a meritorious issue may lurk in an imperfectly drawn application, or simply out of a jealous wish to guard individual rights against governmental intrusions, judges sometimes allow a claimant a fuller hearing than the law demands. In a democratic legal order built on the promise of due process and the vindication of individual rights that’s often thought laudable or at least generally permissible — and in any event not the stuff of automatic reversal.

United States v. Herrera,  __ F.3d ___ (10th Cir. 2015).