Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Items Not Specifically Mentioned in Search Warrant Still Within Its Scope

US v. Phillips: Phillips was charged with and convicted of numerous fraud counts related to the fraudulent use of credit cards and businesses called Phydea (and it's associated website, and Phydea Equity Fund. After an investigation, postal inspectors executed a search warrant at Phillips's home, which specifically authorized the seizure of documents related to and generally items "relating to fraudulent conduct and financial crimes." Among the items seized, after consultation with the US Attorney's office, were documents related to the Phydea Equity Fund. Prior to trial, Phillips moved to suppress the evidence seized because the material exceeded the scope of the seizure authorized by the search warrant. The district court denied the motion, Phillips was convicted at trial, and sentenced to a 121-month term of imprisonment.

Phillips appealed on the issue of the scope of the search and seizure, but the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision and Phillips's convictions. The court concluded that the items seized fell "comfortably within the warrant's scope," which the court described as "broad and permissive." The court rejected Phillips's reading that would "require us to hold that an item reasonably encompassed by the terms of the warrant somehow falls outside its scope because the item is probative of charges other than those initial charges set forth by the warrant." Given the intermingling of Phillips's frauds and the links between him, Phydea, and Phydea Equity Fund, the officers executing the search warrant were reasonable in seizing items related to all of them.

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