Monday, December 31, 2012

11th Circuit finds reasonable a 25-day delay in submitting warrant application to search computer

In United States v. Laist, the Eleventh Circuit held that a government delay of 25 days from the defendant's revocation of consent to search a computer until a search warrant application was submitted did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The distribution of child pornography was tracked to the defendant's home, and law enforcement went to search. Upon arrival, the defendant admitted to possession of child pornography and signed a consent form allowing the search and seizure of his computer. A week later, the defendant withdrew his consent by letter. The search warrant application was submitted 25 days later, and the application was approved six days after submission. The defendant was ultimately convicted of multiple child pornography related crimes.

At trial and again on appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence should have been suppressed because the 25-day delay was an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. "Laist argued that he had a substantial possessory interest in the items; that after he revoked his consent to their search, the FBI continued to hold them only on the basis of probable cause; and that the subsequent delay in obtaining a search warrant was unreasonable and therefore violated his Fourth Amendment rights."

The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, holding that although the interference with the defendant's possession was "not insubstantial," it was diminished as he had been given the opportunity to copy documents he needed for school off the computer prior to the seizure, and he had admitted to possession of child pornography and shown such an image to law enforcement. Nonetheless, the government was still required to "diligently obtain[] a warrant," which the Eleventh determined happened in this case. The 25-day delay was reasonable due to the amount of time needed to prepare the warrant and how busy the office was at the time.
The government's efforts here were sufficiently diligent to pass muster under the Fourth Amendment. While a 25-day seizure based solely on probable cause is far from ideal, and we have found shorter delays unreasonable under different circumstances, see Mitchell, 565 F.3d at 1352 (21-day delay), the totality of the circumstances in this case demonstrate the reasonableness of the government's actions.


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