Under the Fourth Amendment, police must generally obtain a warrant before they can search your property. However, there are exceptions such as where you consent to the search.

But let’s say, the police tell you they are looking for one thing on your computer but actually look for something else. For example, in one Illinois case, the defendant consented to a search for viruses relating to compromised credit card information, but the officers instead looked for images and found child pornography. (See People v Prinzing.)

What can you do? Is the search valid?

The answer depends on the scope of your consent. If an officer asks to search your computer and you agree, your consent may be open ended and allow just about anything. But what if the circumstances are not so cut and dried?

Under U.S. Supreme Court case law, the scope of a suspect’s consent is measured by ‘objective reasonableness.’ What would the typical, reasonable person understand by the exchange between the officer and the suspect? The court looks at the expressed object of the search. (See Florida v. Jimeno.)

In the example above, the court said that the defendant had consented to a search for viruses and not images. Thus, the search was illegal and the child pornography evidence was suppressed.

In another case, (U.S. v Price, 12-1630 & 12-1880), a police woman asked to search defendant’s computer but said she was not an expert at computer forensics and another officer would need to conduct the search. The defendant consented, but later said he was only consenting to a search at that moment and not later. The court said the defendant’s understanding of a time limit was not reasonable since the officer had told him she couldn’t do the search herself.

Once you have given consent, you still have a right to limit it or withdraw it.

If you are charged with a computer-related or other offense, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case to help present the best possible defense. If the search if illegal, an attorney may be able to bring a motion to have the evidence against you suppressed.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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