In U.S. v. Laist, No. 11-15531 (Dec. 11, 2012), the Court held that a government 25-day delay in submitting an application for a search warrant while holding a computer based on probable cause was not an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
The Court first rejected the argument that the six days during which the search warrant application was submitted to and under consideration by a federal magistrate judge should be counted, in addition the preceding 25 days, in determining the unreasonableness of the delay. The Court distinguished the deterrent effect of the exclusionary rule on law enforcement agents from its effect on magistrate judges.
Turning to the 25-day delay, the Court emphasized that the defendant had a “diminished” possessory interest his computer, because he had an opportunity, when the computers were seized, to copy or remove personal documents. Moreover, the defendant admitted to the presence of illicit child pornography images on his computer.
The Court also found that the FBI Agent promptly started preparing the search affidavit once it was needed, and included “very substantial amount information” as to the defendant’s conduct in pages 14-17 of the affidavit. The Court noted that the investigation of the case took roughly a year, and that the Agent worked in a two-person office that covered ten Georgia counties. “The government’s efforts here were sufficiently diligent to pass muster under the Fourth Amendment.” The Court distinguished U.S. v. Mitchell, in which the Court had found a 21-day delay to be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, finding the facts “readily distinguishable” – and pointing to Laist’s “diminished personal interest in his computer.”