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Man accused of tax evasion proves rights violation to court

For most people, it isn’t until we are facing criminal charges that we realize how important our constitutional rights are. That’s because, as many of our California readers already know, it’s just as important for law enforcement to protect a person’s rights as it is for a person to follow state and federal laws.

But according to a recent court decision, this wasn’t the case for one man who was convicted of tax evasion even though his constitutional rights had been violated. It wasn’t until a recent appeal that the error was discovered and the conviction was wiped by the court. So how, might you ask, was the man’s rights violated? Let’s take a look.

According to court documents, computer data was seized from the man, who is an accountant, because of an Army investigation in 2003 regarding two of his clients. It’s worth noting to our readers at this time though that this data was not covered by the initial search warrant and was, in fact, taken unlawfully from the man’s possession.

Instead of destroying the records, investigators allegedly sat on it for 2 ½ years before they began to suspect the accountant of underreporting his income. With the IRS’s help, investigators received a warrant for the data they had already taken, which led to accusations of the white collar crime.

As one circuit court pointed out on appeal though, “[t]he Fourth Amendment was intended to prevent the government from entering individuals' homes and indiscriminately seizing all their papers in the hopes of discovering evidence about previously unknown crimes.” The court pointed out, reasonable suspicion needed to have been established at the time the data was taken. Because it was not, and therefore was not covered by the first warrant, law enforcement had violated the man’s rights.

Though this particular case was not handled by a court here in California, it does show what can happen in a criminal trial if investigators do not abide by the law. And it’s worth noting that a similar conclusion could be reached by our own circuit court.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Feds' Data Retention Found 'Unreasonable',” Adam Klasfeld, June 20, 2014

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