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

Contact Bart Kaspero

Free Case Evaluation

Contact Bart Kaspero - Attorney in Irvine, CA
Contact Bart Kaspero

Leave A Comment

About the Author: Bart Kaspero

Bart Kaspero is an experienced criminal defense and regulatory attorney who has focused on using technology and the law in bringing privacy to criminal records. His research has been published in several legal journals and his unique background has helped a broad spectrum of clients. He has provided legal training to lawyers across the US on how to navigate complex criminal record legislation and how to effectively provide privacy to those with past arrests, charges, and convictions. His innovative methods have earned him a top position of authority on the subject of criminal record privacy as well as trust within the criminal data supply chain.