Your Rights Regarding Computer Searches

Computers can hold a wealth of personal and private information. That being the case, various courts have decided to treat computers as a type of filing cabinet that can hold numerous files and documents. Accordingly, when it comes to searches of computers, the police must show probable cause and a have a warrant (or be able to justify why they don’t have a warrant) in order to search a computer’s directories, paths, file names, and folders.

However, there are certain disadvantages to treating a computer like an ordinary filing cabinet or container. For example, the warrants to look for a particular item usually allow for the search of any container or place inside an area that might include that item. For that reason, computer searches often involve a higher level of invasion than normal searches of other containers. Thus, a number of courts have ruled that without the existence of unique conditions, searching a computer without explicit permission in a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s standard of reasonableness. A skilled South King County criminal attorney can further advise you with regard to the specifics of your situation.

Once you have made contact with a capable attorney, he or she should go over the warrant with a fine tooth comb in an effort to determine exactly what was authorized to be searched. This is important because if the authorities allege that they came across certain incriminating files based on the files’ names while performing a search of your computer’s other files, it can be argued that probable cause must have existed to believe that the folder or file contained contraband or evidence based solely on the file or folder’s name.

The majority of all data files bear extensions that clearly identify them as one type of file or another, and files bearing dissimilar extensions will not be found in the same folder. For instance, if a search for documents (which normally have extensions that include “doc,” “rtf,” or
“pdf”) is authorized and the police officers examine files ending in “jpg,” which is the extension for pictures, they should immediately be aware that they are looking at picture files and exceeding the scope of the warrant.

If you need an experienced South King County criminal attorney, please contact us for a free consultation.