Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mitchell: unreasonable 21-day delay in seeking warrant to search hard drive

In U.S. v. Mitchell, No. 08-10791 (April 22, 2009), the Court reversed the denial of a motion to suppress, holding that the 21-day delay between the seizure of a computer hard drive and obtaining a warrant to search the hard drive constituted an unreasonable delay, in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
The government’s justification for the 21-day delay was that the agent who seized the hard drive was away from the office on a two-week training session, and saw no urgency to search the hard drive because the defendant had admitted that it contained child pornography images. Rejecting this position, the Court noted that individuals are dependent on their hard drives for a number of essential tasks in their lives, and they contain a universe of personal information. Further, the justification for the delay was not adequate, because another agent could have done the forensic search of the hard drive while the agent was away for training. The Court noted that its finding was specific to the circumstances of the case.