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Arizona Court Issues Importance Decision in Search and Seizure Case

The Supreme Court of Arizona recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of his conviction based on an illegal search and seizure. The case focused on whether law enforcement must obtain a search warrant in cases involving Arizona criminal defendant’s Internet Protocol (IP) addresses or subscriber information the user provides to an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

In this case, an undercover detective joined an internet forum seeking users interested in child pornography. A user responded and requested to be added to the group. After the detective added him, the defendant sent illicit photos and videos depicting child pornography. Federal agents served a subpoena to obtain the user’s IP address. After obtaining the IP address and ISP, the detective retrieved the name, addresses, and phone number of the defendant. Law enforcement executed a search warrant and confiscated the defendant’s external hard drive, laptop, desktop computer, and cell phone. An in-depth search of these items revealed child pornography and messages the defendant sent to the law enforcement officer.

After he was indicted, the defendant moved to suppress the subscriber information and all evidence seized from his residence. He argued that it was an illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (US Constitution) and article 2, section 8 of the Arizona Constitution (AZ Constitution). He argued that the US Constitution and AZ Constitution require a warrant or court order to obtain his IP and ISP information. The trial court denied his motion, and a jury convicted the defendant on all counts. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction.

The state’s high court affirmed, finding that the State lawfully obtained the information with a valid federal administrative subpoena. The Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. Lawmakers designed the law to protect individuals against “arbitrary invasions” by the governmental. The law protects people and places in situations when a person “seeks to preserve something as private.” There are exceptions to this protection under the “third-party doctrine.”

The “third-party doctrine” is used to differentiate between information an individual seeks to preserve as private, and information that is not private-because they share it with others.
Under this construct, one cannot expect privacy of the information they voluntarily disclose to third parties, even if there is an assumption it will be used for limited purposes. The court reasoned that information transmitted is not a “private affair”, under the Private Affairs Clause. Therefore, neither the US Constitution nor AZ Constitution requires law enforcement to secure a search warrant to retrieve IP or ISP information.

Have You Been Charged with an Arizona Criminal Offense?

If you or someone you love has been arrested or charged with an Arizona sex crime, contact the Law Office of James Novak. Attorney James Novak has extensive experience in the Arizona criminal justice system. He has nearly 20 years of defending those charged with Arizona crimes. He prioritizes a client’s needs and zealously advocates on their behalf, ensuring that they receive the strongest defense. He handles criminal charges including Arizona drug offenses, vehicular crimes, theft charges, property crimes, felony offenses, sexual offenses, and white-collar crimes. Contact the Law Office of James E. Novak at 480-413-1499, to schedule a free initial consultation.

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