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Oregon Supreme Court: State Constitution Requires Warrant to Specify When Internet Searches Occurred

by Mark Wilson

The Supreme Court of Oregon ruled that the Oregon Constitution requires that a warrant to seize and search a computer (and other digital devices) identify the information to be searched for, including the time that the information was created, accessed, or otherwise used. Failure to provide such specificity in the warrant precludes the state’s use of evidence discovered during the search. 

On June 12, 2011, Kaliq Michael Mansor called 911 at 2:22 p.m. because his 11-week­old son had stopped breathing. The child was transported to the hospital, where he later died. Doctors determined the cause of death was “shaken baby syndrome” due to intentionally inflicted abuse. 

During a police interview, Mansor admitted that he searched the internet for advice about what to do approximately 15 minutes before calling 911. Due to this admission, detectives prepared a search warrant to seize Mansor’s computers. 

Two laptop computers and two desktop computers were seized from Mansor’s residence and taken to an FBI forensic laboratory for analysis. Detectives initially sought Mansor’s internet history and search item input after 2 p.m., on June 12, 2011. They subsequently expanded their search parameters at least twice. 

Forensic analysts compiled a spreadsheet of Mansor’s internet history, containing over 360,000 records dating back to 2005 — six years before his child was born. They also prepared a report of results for the search term “abuse” that contained URLs during a 16-month period and many other undated results. The examiner also included other unrequested materials that he thought might be relevant, including a downloaded computer game that allowed the user to simulate child abuse. 

Mansor moved to suppress the evidence discovered on his computers, arguing that the warrant was “worded so broadly as to constitute a general warrant.” The trial court denied the motion. 

At trial, the State introduced evidence that Mansor had searched the internet for information about child abuse five times in the 54 days before calling 911. Most notably, three days before calling 911, he searched for: “afraid of abusing my baby” and “how do I deal with a screaming baby.” Three minutes later, he searched “baby, swelling, back of head.” After an 11-day trial, the jury convicted Mansor of 10 counts for murder, assault, and criminal mistreatment. 

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the trial court’s denial of Mansor’s motion to suppress the computer search evidence violated Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution, “which can be traced directly to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” 

Following Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the Court observed that “digital information on cell phones — and, by logical extension, computers and similar digital devices — implicates privacy interests entitled to constitutional protection under the Fourth Amendment.” The Court then rejected the State’s argument that a computer is like any other “thing” and that if the computer is lawfully seized pursuant to a warrant so is any evidence discovered on the computer. It also rejected the State’s alternative argument that a warrant is sufficiently particular if it simply identifies the crimes being investigated. 

Rather, “to meet the particularity requirement of Article I, section 9, a warrant to search for and seize a computer — must be based on probable cause to believe that such evidence will be found on the computer and must describe the information the state seeks (the ‘what’) with as much specificity as reasonably possible under the circumstances, including, if available and relevant, a temporal description of when the information was created, accessed, or otherwise used,” the Court ruled. 

“Because of the possibility that a computer search will uncover information that is not authorized by the warrant,” the Court concluded that “a defendant’s Article I, section 9, privacy rights prevent the state from using such information unless it comes within an exception to the warrant requirement.” 

Given that the Mansor warrant limited the search to internet searches conducted after 2 p.m., on June 12, 2011, the warrant “did not authorize police to search for and recover much of the other voluminous material that was contained in the computer and that also was subject to the motion to suppress.” 

Accordingly, the trial court erred in “denying the motion to suppress and allowing the evidence beyond the scope of the warrant to be used at trial.” Finding that this evidence “was undoubtedly helpful to the state’s case,” the Supreme Court concluded that the error was not harmless and reversed. See: State v. Mansor, 421 P.3d 323 (Ore. 2018). 

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