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Focus: the Fourth Amendment and border searches, Part 2

Our immediately preceding post from earlier this week placed a spotlight on border searches conducted by customs and immigration officials of the personal effects of persons returning to the United States from an international destination.

As noted in a recent media article on the subject, there has "long been a sense that the Fourth Amendment's protection from unreasonable search and seizure doesn't apply at the border."

Really? Not at all? Are agents truly free to subject a given passport holder to an exhaustive search based on pure whim, that is, without any reasonable suspicion of ongoing criminal activity?

Based on ample evidence (and certainly the anecdotal observations of many millions of traveling Americans), it certainly seems to be the long-tenured view of American law enforcers that such is the case. In a figurative sense, people are routinely ripped to shreds at customs checkpoints along the American border. Maybe agents have suspicions regarding illegal activity, such as a drug trafficking crime, smuggling or money laundering -- and maybe not.

A recent federal court ruling has emerged to challenge border-based constitutional search guidelines, with its outcome signaling -- as noted by one commentator -- that the border "is not a Constitution-free zone."

The case involved the seizure of a laptop at the border, with authorities seeking to examine it to gather evidence in an already existing criminal investigation. The computer's entire contents were copied, with sophisticated forensic software being used to extract data.

That was too much, said the federal judge, who suppressed all the evidence that was gathered. The court ruling was based on the view that no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity existed to merit such an invasive intrusion into an individual's personal effects.

Other courts have ruled similarly, with another commentator noting that their holdings are signaling "problematic privacy concerns when it comes to computer searches."

A close examination of authorities' strategies and practices regarding the search and seizure of evidence is often a critically important component of the work done by a seasoned defense attorney. Probable-cause and related issues can go to the heart of a criminal case and materially influence a judicial ruling.

A proven defense attorney with demonstrated experience in federal criminal cases can answer questions and provide diligent representation in any matter involving constitutional allowances and limitations.

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