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The Search of Computers

When it comes to searching computers, a large number of courts consider the computer to be just like a filing cabinet that holds a considerable amount of distinct file folders and documents; and accordingly, the courts will require law enforcement officers to prove that there was probable cause (as well as a warrant or at least justification for the lack of a warrant) to explore each directory, path, file name, and folder contained in the computer.

However, treating the computer in the same way that you would treat another container definitely has certain disadvantages For example, warrants to search for a specific items, such as documents or pictures, typically allow for the search of any area or container within that area that might have the item therein. Computers are different, though, in the amount and assortment of personal information that they might contain. Thus, searches that involve computers are usually more of an imposition than searches that involved other types of containers. That said, a number of courts have held that, without extraordinary conditions, searches of computers without a warrant that clearly authorizes such a search infringes upon the Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness.

Your Sacramento criminal defense attorney should pay particular attention to what was authorized by the warrant or the justification for the search. If the police argue that they came across incriminating files that were in plain sight while going through your computer for other files, your attorney can argue that there has to be probable cause to believe that the folder and file found had relevant evidence based exclusively on the name of the folder or file.

For instance, data files have extensions that clearly identify them as one type of file or another, and files that have dissimilar extensions will not be found in the same folder. Thus, a search for e-mails will usually have an “eml” extension, and the officer should not find himself or herself going through folders that have picture files that are clearly identified by extensions such as “jpg” or “tiff.”

If you believe that you would benefit from having the skills of a well-versed Sacramento criminal defense attorney, please do not hesitate to call Param Pabla at (916) 285-7900 for a consultation.

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