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June 14, 2011

Another Reason Not to Work From Your Car

United States Magistrate Judge Russell Vineyard has issued an opinion that permitted law enforcement to obtain a warrant for a laptop found in a “mobile office.” The case is United States v. Adigun, 2011 U.S. Dist. Lexis 60310 (N.D. Ga. May 4, 2011). (Sorry, I can’t find a public link to the opinion.) The defendants face various fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with an alleged credit card fraud and identity theft ring.

In 2007, a Georgia sheriff’s office investigator, using information obtained from American Express, obtained a search warrant for one of the defendant’s apartment and a car. The car had been driven to a location to pick up a fraudulently obtained credit card, and the suspect ran when confronted by the police. The warrant permitted the seizure of computers, including a laptop computer the police had observed on the front seat of a vehicle. The affidavit seeking the warrant asserted that a “fraudulent credit application . . . was made via internet connection and was very likely done using the laptop visible in the [car].”

The investigator testified before a magistrate that one of the suspects “appeared to be using the [car] as a ‘mobile office’ based on the way he had set up the laptop, the fact that it was surrounded by a day planner and ‘all kinds of paperwork’ in the front seat.” 

The defendants challenged the search of the computer, based on the fact that the affidavit in support of the search warrant did not allege that one of the defendants used the laptop in the vehicle to commit crimes.  Any computer could have been used, they suggested. The court rejected this argument, relying upon the statements about the application being made over the Internet and the car appearing to be a mobile office to establish a nexus between the laptop and the suspected criminal activity. 





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