United States v. Warshak

631 F.3d 266 (6th Cir. 2010)

 

RULE:

If government agents compel an internet service provider to surrender the contents of a subscriber's emails, those agents have thereby conducted a Fourth Amendment search, which necessitates compliance with the warrant requirement absent some exception. 

FACTS:

Defendant son, mother and the son's company were charged with various crimes related to their business including fraud and money laundering. Defendants enjoyed a reasonable expectation of privacy in his emails vis-a-vis his internet service provider (ISP). However, at trial, the ISP was compelled to turn over the emails without first obtaining a warrant. Defendants were convicted by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on the majority of 112 charges. The son was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment, the mother to 24 months. They were jointly and severally liable for forfeiture judgments in excess of $45 million. Defendants appealed.

ISSUE:

Did the government violate the defendant’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The court of appeals held that althougt the government did violate Warshak's Fourth Amendment rights by compelling his Internet Service Provider (ISP) to turn over the contents of his emails without a warrant, a reversal of his conviction is unwarranted because the agents relied on the Stored Communications Act (SCA) in good faith. The court of appeals held the SCA unconstitutional to the extent it permitted the government to obtain such emails without a warrant. However, because the agents relied in good faith on provisions of the SCA, the exclusionary rule did not apply. The district court did not err in refusing to hold a full-fledged hearing under Kastigar v. United States when determining whether government agents had improperly used privileged materials seized during a valid search because Kastigar did not apply with full force outside the context of compelled testimony. The district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to order the government to provide discovery in a different format, as Fed. R. Crim. P. 16 was silent on the issue of the form that discovery must take. Moreover, the government did not duck its obligations under Brady v. Maryland by providing defendants with massive quantities of discovery. The district court did not err in refusing to grant defendants a continuance to continue examining the discovery materials.

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