In a case that began in the Superior Court of San Mateo, police officers seized and searched the cell phone that belonged to a defendant after executing a search warrant for his home. By the way, the search warrant never listed cell phones as items that can be seized.
Looking through the cell phone, the police obviously found some incriminating texts. While in the Superior Court, the defendant’s attorneys filed to suppress the evidence under the argument that the officers exceeded their scope of the search warrant, therefore violating his 4th Amendment Constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure.
Once the case made its way to the Court of Appeal, the opinion of the court was that the search was lawful for two reasons:
First, the court reasoned that law enforcement can search and seize items not in the police search warrant so long as those items are the functional equivalent of the listed items (in other words, if they are similar to what’s listed, it’s OK). For example then, if police are searching someone’s home for drug activity such as sales, then a phone (which can be reasoned is a reasonable tool that is used for sales activity) can be seized.
Second, the court asked themselves if the text messages can be read in the cell phone that was not listed in the warrant. Again, the court reasoned that police can read the messages. Why? Because if the police can seize an item that they believe help explain the criminal activity they are investigating, then they can of course inspect the content of the item. The exact language used by the court is:
“…a second warrant to search a properly seized computer is not necessary where the evidence
obtained in the search did not exceed the probable cause articulated in the original warrant.”
What that means, is that if the item was lawfully taken, then it can be lawfully inspected.
Case Citation: People v. Rangel; 2012 DJ DAR 7938; DJ, 6/15/12; C/A 1st, Div. 5