Orin Kerr writes:
Back in 2009, I blogged about United States v. Cotterman, a fascinating Fourth Amendment case from the District of Arizona involving a forensic search of a computer seized at the U.S./Mexico border. Ninth Circuit precedent holds that the government can search a computer at the border with no suspicion under the border search exception, just like it can search any other property. The question inCotterman was whether the government could seize the computer, bring it to a forensic specialist 170 miles away, and have the forensic specialist search the computer there two days later. Is that still a border search? Or does the delay in time, or the change in location, mean that the border search exception doesn’t apply (or applies differently)? The District Court held that the delay in time and the moving of the computer required applying the ‘extended’ border search doctrine, which requires reasonable suspicion, instead of the traditional border search exception, which does not. As I noted here, the Government appealed but has not argued that the search was justified by reasonable suspicion. As a result, the case presents a pure legal question: Does the Fourth Amendment require reasonable suspicion in these circumstances, or is the seizure and subsequent search permitted without any cause?
In a decision released this morning, United States v. Cotterman, a divided Ninth Circuit reversed and held that the seizure and search were permitted without cause.
Read more on The Volokh Conspiracy.