Digital Privacy & Illegal Police Searches

A story was recently released announcing that the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted to limit police searches at the border, specifically, searches of electronic devices such as phones. The court ruled that border patrol agents had been illegally searching phones without significant reason (probable cause). Without probable cause, law enforcement violate fourth amendment rights to safety from illegal searches and seizures.

Before conducting any type of forensic search, whether that be of a phone, a vehicle or a person, border patrol agents must have reasonable suspicion. What constitutes reasonable suspicion then may be the real question in these situations.

What exactly sparked this investigation that eventually made its way up to the appeals court? Not long ago, an individual was stopped at the border. He was a United States citizen whose laptop was seized for searching by border patrol agents. There was a month long investigation into this case. The result? the man was found to have hundreds of child porn files that he had downloaded onto his laptop.

A district court then decided that the search was unconstitutional, and ruled that the evidence should be discarded from the case, which would leave the child pornography possession charges without backing. The case then moved to a higher court. This time, the court ruled that border patrol agents did in fact have reasonable suspicion to search the laptop. The reasonable suspicion in this case came from the fact that the man was a convicted child molester.

Border patrol still believes that reasonable suspicion is not necessary when it comes to searching electronic devices, but is this constitutional? According to the fourth amendment, all citizens are entitled to protection against unlawful searches and seizures. In order for a search to be lawful, there must be probable cause or "reasonable suspicion." The appeals court ruled in favor of this, but border patrol officials still seem to be in disagreement.

Unlawful searches and seizures are actually common reasons for charges being significantly reduced or dismissed outright. If the search was not lawful, then the evidence from the search must be excluded from the case. Since evidence from a search is usually a bulk of what the charges rest on, proving an unlawful search or seizure can be one of the best ways to defend against a conviction.

To read the full story about the court limiting border searches of electronic devices, click here. If you have been arrested for a criminal offense and you are seeking a strong defense, please do not hesitate to contact a Phoenix criminal defense lawyer from Knowles Law Firm today!

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