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Oregon Supreme Court - June 28, 2018

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by: Rankin Johnson IV • July 17, 2018 • no comments

Summarized by Rankin Johnson, OCDLA

  • SEARCH WARRANTS - Searches of computers

Search warrant permitting search of the defendant’s entire computer was overbroad and invalid. Conviction reversed, remanded for new trial.

In order to satisfy the particularity requirement of Article I, section 9, a warrant to search a computer must specify the data sought, including, if possible, the time within which it was created or accessed. Information obtained during a computer search that is outside the scope of the warrant is inadmissible unless an exception to the warrant requirement applies.

Defendant was convicted of murdering his infant son. He told the police that his son had struggled to breathe and he had looked online for first aid advice before calling 911. The state had probable cause to examine the computer for evidence of defendant search for first-aid advice. It obtained a warrant, examined the computer, and properly offered evidence at trial of the defendant’s searches made shortly before the 911 call. But the forensic examination also revealed that defendant had searched for information about child abuse at other times, and that evidence was also admitted. The admission of the child-abuse searches was error, because no probable cause or search-warrant exception supported a search for that evidence, and was not harmless.

The court examined decisions from other jurisdictions and secondary sources and explained that, because of how computers store data, an expert search for specific data could easily reveal other data, and the rule announced was necessary to avoid permitting a general warrant. The court noted that the state had not made a plain-view argument, and so no such argument was resolved.

State v. Mansor 363 Or 185 (July 5, 2018) (Balmer, J.)