The Ninth Circuit has decided a major case on the way law enforcement searches electronic evidence using search warrants or grand jury subpoenas. The case is United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc. and it's a chewy steak dinner for folks who like reading about how our Constitutional rights are going to work in the age of electronic evidence.
It's also a kick in the crotch to the kind of agents and prosecutors who over-reach when it comes to people's Fourth Amendment rights. (Though, as I read the case, I think the agent was overreaching and committed the government lawyers to take some unnecessarily aggressive positions.)
There's so much in this opinion that I'm just going to raise a few of the big parts I find particularly noteworthy. You should really read the whole thing yourself. Clearly, Comprehensive Drug Testing is going to play a huge role in how the Fourth Amendment and electronic data intersect in the years to come. It's also kind of a fun read.
Basically there are three big take away points - (1) the government cannot use the plain view doctrine to justify searching electronic evidence they don't have probable cause to search; (2) the government has an affirmative obligation to disclose any actual risks of destruction of electronic evidence in a search warrant application; and (3) once the government takes electronic evidence pursuant to a search warrant, it is limited to searching for evidence that it already has probable cause to search.
A fuller discussion of each of these points (and more!) is after the jump.
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