Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Search and Seizure of Laptop Computer Did Not Violate Fourth Amendment

United States v. Howe, No. 12-4394-cr (2d Cir. Nov. 25, 2013) (Pooler, Raggi, and Wesley) (summary order), available here

Convicted of receiving and possessing child pornography, Howe was sentenced to 180 months of imprisonment. On appeal, he argued that the district court should have suppressed the evidence against him because (1) the police lacked probable cause to seize his laptop computer without a warrant; (2) the delay between seizure of his laptop and the issuance of a federal warrant to search the computer was  unreasonable; and (3) no probable cause existed to support issuance of the federal warrant to search the laptop.

The panel rejected all three arguments. First, probable cause existed to seize the laptop because a police officer had “viewed the Sample Pictures folder” on the computer, which contained a “lascivious” image.

Second, though the government’s delay in seeking the federal search warrant was “quite lengthy,” it was not constitutionally unreasonable because the delay resulted from error rather than lack of diligence, the defendant had a “diminished” possessory interest in the computer, and the government had a “strong interest” in retaining the laptop.

Finally, the Court rejected the defendant’s claim that the federal search warrant was not based on probable cause. The affidavit in support of the warrant noted, among other things, that witnesses reported seeing titles of files on the defendant’s computer indicating that the files contained sexually explicit images of children. Accordingly, officials had probable cause to believe that the defendant’s laptop contained child pornography.

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