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Name: United States v. Payton
Case #: 07-10567
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 07/21/2009

A computer was not an ordinary container and could therefore not be searched pursuant to a search warrant which did not explicitly authorize it. Police believed that the residents of Payton’s home were selling drugs, and got a search warrant which permitted a search of pay/owe ledgers and financial records, but did not explicitly authorize search of computers. Although police found no evidence of drug sales, an officer did find a computer with a screen saver on. The officer moved the mouse to stop the screen saver, and then opened a file which led to a federal child pornography prosecution. Following denial of his suppression motion, Payton pleaded guilty. On appeal, he argued that the search warrant did not authorize a search of the computer. The appellate court agreed and reversed. The search of the computer exceeded the scope of the warrant and did not meet the Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness. Searches of computers involve a degree of intrusiveness greater than searches of other containers and a reasonable computer search will often require specific authorization in a warrant.