As U.S. citizens, we are afforded certain freedoms, rights and protections, many of which are outlined in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. While Americans enjoy many freedoms and rights, citizens must still abide by certain laws, rules and regulations; which aim to keep order and maintain our ability to sustain the freedoms and way of life we enjoy. Laws pertaining to criminal activity are primarily enforced by governmental, federal and state law enforcement agencies.
Thankfully, there are also laws and rules that regulate the agencies and individuals empowered to uphold the law. For example, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unlawful "search" and "seizure”. As a result, federal and law enforcement agencies are required to obtain consent or a search warrant prior to searching and seizing evidence found in an individual's home, vehicle or on their person. It's important to note that, even in cases where search warrants are issued; there are still restrictions and time limits related to the scope and validity of the warrant.
A 72-year-old man recently learned he won’t' be required to serve a two-year prison sentence related to a tax evasion conviction. The man was previously found guilty of tax evasion after it was discovered he failed to pay some $160,000 in federal income taxes. However, the means by which the IRS and law enforcement officials obtained evidence was recently deemed by a court as being "unreasonable seizure."
According to court documents, suspecting criminal activity related to two of the man's clients, investigators with the U.S. Army obtained a search warrant and gained access to files on three of the defendants’ computers. However, the evidence obtained via the search warrant was not examined until more than two years later when the IRS became involved in the investigation. At that time, the files were searched and evidence was discovered related to the defendant's failure to pay income taxes.
A court recently ruled that the evidence used to convict the man was in violation of the Fourth Amendment and equated to "unreasonable seizure." In their ruling, the court asserted the government failed to search the evidence in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, the court spoke to the dangers of allowing the government to "seize and retain non-responsive electronic records indefinitely, so it could search them whenever it later developed probable cause."
Source: Courthouse News Service, "Feds' Data Retention Found 'Unreasonable'," Adam Klasfeld, June 20, 2014