D.Minn.: A laptop stolen to turn it over to the police could be used as evidence

Defendant’s laptop was stolen for the purpose of turning it over to the police who accessed it by search warrant. The person who took it was not acting as a government agent, and it’s clear since Burdeau (1921) that this doesn’t preclude the use of the laptop as evidence. United States v. Mays, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165597 (D. Minn. Sept. 20, 2019):

Here, Mays’s laptop was stolen. Holmes, in part to further his own ends, delivered it to Agent Yarbrough. Agent Yarbrough, knowing the laptop was stolen, retained it for possible use against Mays. Accordingly, Agent Yarbrough’s seizure of stolen property seems not to offend the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on warrantless seizures, and was not unreasonable. Burdeau, 256 U.S. at 476; see also Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 393 n.6 (1971) (citing Burdeau for the proposition that a Fourth Amendment claim can be rejected despite a showing that the federal agents possessed stolen property).

More recently, the Supreme Court has held that “private wrongdoing does not deprive the government of the right to use evidence that it has acquired lawfully.” Walter v. United States, 447 U.S. 649, 656 (1980). The question, then, is whether Agent Yarbrough acquired the laptop lawfully. Here, as in Burdeau and Coolidge, there was “not the slightest implication of an attempt on [Agent Yarbrough and Detective Kne’s] part to coerce or dominate [Holmes], or, for that matter, to direct [Holmes’s] actions by the more subtle techniques of suggestion that are available to officials in circumstances like these.” Coolidge, 403 U.S. at 487-90.

Coolidge seems to support the conclusion that Agent Yarbrough lawfully acquired the laptop because the acquisition was not even a seizure. See Coolidge, 403 U.S. at 487-90. …

Burdeau is 98 years old now?

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