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Searches and Seizures; How They Influence Technological Privacy and Criminal Investigations

Jennifer Juarez

Salt Lake Community College


I explore how technology affects the way how investigators gather evidence and the

situations they encounter. This also includes real events that have occurred within the past 10

years, as well as discussing laws, rules, and court cases that influence how law enforcement

conduct searches and seizures. I also include my insights and moments that occurred in class and

what Ive learned.


Searches and Seizures; How They Influence Technological Privacy and Criminal Investigations

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and

effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,

and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or

affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the

persons or things to be seized. (Fourth Amendment, U.S Constitution)

Citizens of the United States always have the possibilities of where and when law

enforcement is allowed to administer a search is part of the subject called Criminal Procedure.

Emphasizing how procedures were conducted and the guardianship the courts may have

sustained, mainly analyzing how law enforcement is performing. Though there isnt a

substantive right, meaning right to have the police not search you or your home. (Crash

Course) However, its the fourth amendment thats been the hot topic as of late, technological

advancements that are so innovative and contemporary, its difficult for law enforcement to keep

up. Then theres the grey areas that come up during certain cases, trying to maintain American

citizens constitutional right, but also under fire for overstepping boundaries, arguably. Theres

still a fine line that police still have to be careful about because of this, otherwise, they end up in

the news and become victims of public opinion. In class, we even talked about how law

enforcement cant just start searching someone without a warrant and the specifics of where

they're looking. As well as talking about whats permissible in the court with exceptions to

warrants and evidence, like the exclusionary rule and the plain view doctrine. These examples

clearly point out what officers struggle within a digitalized and technological world and my

thoughts about each case.

We talked about how computer hackers or offenders will sometimes install a program

when it comes to their personal devices and having contingency plans in getting rid of the

evidence. We also talked about how when it comes to obtaining technological or electronic

evidence, the investigators, CSI team, and computer forensics have to be increasingly careful

when transporting and extracting the information for evidence. Then there are still court cases

like United States v Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc, 2009; making evidence admissible if it

falls in plain view doctrine, but must fit certain requirements. Then theres United States v

Williams, 2010; declaring that computer searches ought to involve observing each file on the

device, meeting plain view exception. But then theres the Wiretap Act, which guards groups to

an oral, wire, or electronic intelligence from their conversation being hijacked by a group from

the conversation.

September 2012, Christian Aguilar was a freshman at the University of Florida when he

suddenly disappeared. The last time Christian was seen was with his friend Pedro Bravo at a

town Best Buy. (Burch, 2014) Christians corpse was located over 60 miles west in a hollow

mound. Investigators found there was reasonable suspicion towards Pedro, because of prior

claims made about Pedro having some personal problems with Aguilar and an ex-girlfriend of

Bravos. Investigators were able to find a screenshot, correlating with the time of Aguilars

disappearance, of Bravo asking I need to hide my roommate. After a thorough analysis,

examiners were also able to find out the duration of time utilized of a flashlight application

during the time of Aguilars disappearance. With all the evidence collected Bravo would be

taken to trial in August of 2014, to later be condemned for first-degree murder. Which I think its

great, mainly because justice was served and punishment was given to the offender. But this is

just one of the few, easier examples that law enforcement has seen.

November 5, 2017, a man opened fire in Sutherland Springs, Texas at a church.

Unfortunately, 26 souls were taken from this world by a man who just decided to shoot at people

on the sacred day of the week. The suspect was located in his car couple miles away from the

church. Law enforcement described him as a young, white male. Later to be recognized as 26-

year-old Devin Patrick Kelley. It was revealed by BBC that Kelly was dismissed by the US Air

Force. His purpose for the shooting is obscure. Two days later, once the Federal Bureau of

Investigation (FBI) got involved, an Apple brand phone was discovered to be the Kelly's.

Usually, Apple is known to uphold their privacy policies, yet so much so that this situation isnt

the first of its kind. A year prior, the Supreme Court had a case with, again, the FBI for the non-

cooperation during the San Bernardino shooters investigation, as their phones were to have been

discovered to have been Apple phones. FBI special agent, Christopher Combs, had the suspects

phone transferred to Quantico, Virginia to break the encryption has been placed on the Apple

phone. At that time, to no avail. Then on November 9th, news broke out that Apple decided to

extend an olive branch to the FBI in regards to cooperation in the investigation. Apple should

have cooperated, however, if the company really wanted to keep the bad publicity out of their

hair, they could have asked for a warrant, showing that they still have rights to situations like

these. Yet, if they were truly concerned about the effects of sales as information was released, I

do believe that the FBI could have complied and kept the data vague but available to the public,

just not enough to hinder Apples business. I do have a prediction that if one more criminal act

comes out again in the future and Apple favors privacy policies instead of complete

participation, their sales will go down. I just hope theyre willing to service law enforcement

when it comes to criminal acts, not for their sales and public image, but to just do the right thing.

November 29, 2017, an Arkansas man, James Bates, was charged with first-degree

murder. No one would have known about it if it wasnt for his new Amazon Echo, a wireless

speaker that includes features such as; a calendar, weather information and updates, an

alarm/timer, music player from Spotify and Amazon Prime music inventory, and its connected

to Uber when one is in need of a ride. As of late, Amazon has been on the news a lot lately for

their speakers being connected to the CIA and their intel, to secretly calling local; police when

the speaker, when utilizing the automatic response word Alexa, will recognize certain words

and process whether or the speaker calls 911. That same Wednesday, the judge granted the

request of discarded the Amazon speaker as evidence, National Public Radio reports, The

prosecutors declared nolle prosequi, stating that the evidence could support more than one

reasonable explanation. Amazon originally refused to share the information and data with law

enforcement. Or at least, they would refuse until a warrant was issued. James pronounced his

cooperation with law enforcement, also letting Amazon know that he would not mind the

information being utilized during the investigation. Personally, I think Amazon should have

released that information, despite their value in clients privacy. Yet, its understandable theyre

wanting to exercise their constitutional right as well, where checks and balances make sure

anarchy or lawful regimes do not rise and take over. At least, thats what Americas founding

forefathers were wanting to assure the American public. Clearly inserting the fourth amendment

as a contingency plan for people to rely on, so the values the forefather began with, may continue

for years to come.


Obviously, searches and seizures just doesnt stop at cell phones or speakers, it can go as

far as the internet, computers, and other portable electronics like iPads, DVD players, television,

etc. According to a National Institute of Justice report, they released in 2015, ...The number of

wireless subscriptions currently exceeds the total population (336 million subscriptions to 313

million population)... They recognize that the amount of technology that is being produced is

significantly more than the American population, and understand that law enforcement really

needs to formulate modernized policies to keep up with the technology. The report declares that

modernized policies may be proficient so long as everyone in prosecutions and the courts, to

conclude the legal qualifications concerning admissibility and chain of custody. National

Institute of Justice shows the controversy searches and seizures have.

Warrantless searches may be carried out with consent of an appropriate party.

Exigent circumstances, or immediate danger of destruction of evidence, can also

be cause for a limited search of an electronic storage device. Limited searches

may also be carried out in the context of arrest, when necessary to protect law

enforcement officers or prevent the destruction of evidence.

Dont get me wrong, I enjoy my privacy, and my right to exercise my constitutional rights. I

could keep going on with other acts, court cases, and laws that aid law enforcement in their job

in finding criminals to be taken to trial, later on, Theres just so many examples, that admittedly,

this was a big topic to take on. I still do believe its important to try to keep myself updated on

these laws and rules just to help investigators with their job a bit and reduce some paperwork for

them. Clearly, these instances wont be the last time that will make the news or the courts.

Technology will keep advancing, but I do believe law enforcement is doing an amazing job at

keeping up and attempting to not overstepping their boundaries legally.


Works Cited

BBC News. (2017, November 06). Sutherland Springs: Texas church shooting leaves 26 dead.

Retrieved December 12, 2017, from


AMENDMENT DOCTRINE MASH-UP. Northwestern University Law Review, 110(2),


Dwyer, C. (2017, November 29). Arkansas Prosecutors Drop Murder Case That Hinged On

Evidence From Amazon Echo. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from


Fox-Brewster, T. (2017, November 10). FBI 'Ignores' Apple Olive Branch To Get Data From

Texas Shooter iPhone. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from


Goodison, S. E., Davis, R. C., & Jackson, B. A. (2015). Digital Evidence and the U.S. Criminal

Justice System: Identifying Technology and Other Needs to More Effectively Acquire and

Utilize Digital Evidence (pp. 1-32, Rep. No. 1). RAND Corporation.

Lecher, C. (2017, November 07). The FBI says it can't access the Texas church shooter's

encrypted phone. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from

McNichol, A. (2013). PRIVACY IN THE AGE OF SMARTPHONES: A Better Standard

for GPS Tracking. Arizona State Law Journal, 45(3), 1277-1296.

Merrill, A. B. (2011). CANYOU FINDME NOW? The Federal Government's Attempt to

Track Criminal Suspects Using Their Cell Phones. Arizona State Law Journal,

43(2), 591-628.

Smith, D. (2016, October 05). I've owned an Amazon Echo for nearly a year now - here are my 19

favorite features. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from



International Law Journal, 34(2), 323-366.