Question: While executing a search warrant, can you seize items that are not specifically mentioned in the warrant?
Quick answer: Yes. As long as the items are reasonably related to the crime you are investigating, you can seize the unmentioned items.
Facts: Ovell Evers Jr. (“Junior”) learned from his niece M.E. that his father, Evers Sr. (“Evers”), had sexually assaulted M.E. twice, taken pictures of her body, and saved the pictures on his computer. Junior searched the computer and found a sexually suggestive video of M.E. He called police. Officers then obtained a search warrant for the elder Evers’ home to seize “a digital camera, photos, personal computer, and computer accessories” that may contain evidence of the crimes. They took two computers from Evers’ bedroom, and a quick search showed that images had been deleted before the police search. When officers later had a forensic agent search the computers, they found 40 sexually explicit images of M.E. in her underwear. Evers filed a motion to suppress the photos because searching the computer hard drives exceeded the scope of the warrant, which failed to describe the computers “with particularity.”
Why the case is important: The Sixth Circuit denied suppression because the search of Evers’ hard drive did not exceed the warrant’s scope. A second warrant was not needed because even though Evers’ hard drive was not specifically listed, it reasonably related to his alleged crimes. The court also found that the warrant sufficiently described Evers’ computers. Computer equipment and other digital media are unique because they can have many “hiding places” to keep information. So a warrant for these items not only allows peace officers to seize the physical device, but also to access their contents.
Keep in mind: Be as specific as the circumstances reasonably allow when drafting your search warrant application so you satisfy the warrant’s “particularity” requirement. However, it may be difficult to particularly describe evidence from computers or other digital media. You can still seize these and other items unmentioned in the search warrant, but only if they reasonably relate to the crime you are investigating. Otherwise, a court may suppress the evidence.
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