Case of the Week Archive

Russo v. State - 3rd COA

The defendant was under investigation for the strangulation murder of an Austin woman. After obtaining a search warrant for the defendant's computer, police searched his Internet history for anything pertaining to real estate. While conducting this search, the police found the defendant had visited an erotic strangulation website. After checking the content of the website on another computer, police got another search warrant allowing them to search the defendant's computer for anything related to the website. The initial search of the computer did not exceed the scope of the warrant. In properly construing the defendant's entire Internet history, police only observed references to the website. The file in question was not seized or opened, and the police turned to independent sources to determine the nature of the website. In a search for tangible documents, it is certain that some innocuous documents will be examined, at least cursorily, to determine whether they are among those papers authorized to be searched. Russo v. State, 03-04-00344-CR.

Brendlin v. California - USSC

Police stopped a car unlawfully, a fact the State conceded, to check the registration. The defendant, a passenger in the car, was wanted for a parole violation and was arrested. A subsequent search found drugs in the car. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence, but the California Supreme Court held that suppression was unwarranted because a passenger is not seized as a constitutional matter absent additional circumstances. In a unanimous decision, the Court found that like the driver, a passenger in the car is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and may challenge the stop's constitutionality. The defendant was seized because no reasonable person would have believed himself free to terminate the encounter with the police. A traffic stop necessarily curtails a passenger's travel just as much as it halts the driver and the police intrusion does not normally distinguish from driver and passenger. Brendlin v. California, 06–8120.