Defendant was accused under the Assimilative Crimes Act of ignoring her infant child to death while her husband was deployed, spending 12-15 hours a day computer gaming, hardly stopping for anything. Her husband consented to a seizure of the computer, and it was finally searched months later. While a delay can be unreasonable, it wasn’t here and she never complained before the search. Her computer history was damning evidence against her. United States v. Christie, 717 F.3d 1156 (10th Cir. 2013):
For Rebecca Christie, life must have seemed more virtual than real. She usually awoke around noon, settled in before her computer, and logged on to World of Warcraft for gaming sessions lasting well past midnight. There she assumed a new identity in a fantastical world filled with dragons and demons where players staged heroic adventures with and against other players. All the while back in the real world Ms. Christie ignored the needs of her three-year-old daughter. The neglect didn't prove fatal so long as Ms. Christie's husband was around to provide some care. But nine days after her husband left for an out-of-state deployment, the child was dead from dehydration.
Appealing second-degree murder and child abuse convictions, Ms. Christie raises significant questions about computer searches under the Fourth Amendment and the exclusion of witnesses from trial under the Sixth Amendment. The government's cross-appeal raises important questions, too, touching on the Assimilative Crimes Act and the Fifth Amendment's double jeopardy guarantee. In the end, however, we think the district court handled all these questions well and carefully and we see no grounds on which we might reverse its judgment in this tragic case.
. . .
We do not doubt that an unreasonable delay in obtaining a search warrant can sometimes violate the Fourth Amendment. This much surely flows from the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. What, after all, is "reasonable" about police seizing an individual's property on the ground that it potentially contains relevant evidence and then simply neglecting for months or years to search that property to determine whether it really does hold relevant evidence needed for trial or is totally irrelevant to the investigation and should be returned to its rightful owner? See, e.g., United States v. Burgard, 675 F.3d 1029, 1033 (7th Cir. 2012); United States v. Laist, 702 F.3d 608, 613-14 (11th Cir. 2012); United States v. Martin, 157 F.3d 46, 54 (2d Cir. 1998); United States v. Respress, 9 F.3d 483, 488 (6th Cir. 1993).
In assessing the reasonableness of a delay in seeking a warrant, however, we must take account of "the totality of the circumstances" in each case as it comes to us, United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 8 (1989), wary of the temptation to impose "rigid rules, bright-line tests, and mechanistic inquiries," Florida v. Harris, 133 S. Ct. 1050, 1055 (2013). What reasonably justifies a brief delay, for example, may not reasonably justify a longer one. Our task in each case is to "balance the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion." United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 703 (1983).
Looking first to Ms. Christie's side of the ledger, it's hard to see a significant invasion of her Fourth Amendment interests flowing from the government's delay. That's not to say she never had an interest in the computer. Far from it. She was its primary user and she stored a great deal of personal data on the computer. We don't question that is enough to establish some possessory and privacy interest in the computer the Fourth Amendment would recognize and protect. See United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113 (1984); United States v. Angevine, 281 F.3d 1130, 1133-34 (10th Cir. 2002).
The difficulty Ms. Christie faces comes from her husband's actions and her own inactions. The fact is Mr. Wulf was at least a co-owner of the computer, he consented to its seizure, and Ms. Christie herself raised no objection to the seizure either at the time or in the following weeks and months. No call to the authorities, no letter, no motion to the court. Put differently, one individual with common and at least apparent authority over the computer freely gave it to authorities and the other individual never objected. In these circumstances, the government was entitled to assume under long-standing Supreme Court teachings that any Fourth Amendment interest in the computer's continued possession had been voluntarily relinquished. See, e.g., United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171 (1974); United States v. Andrus, 483 F.3d 711, 716-20 (10th Cir. 2007).
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"If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. It isn't, and they don't."
"Love work; hate mastery over others; and avoid intimacy with the government."
—Shemaya, in the Thalmud
"A system of law that not only makes certain conduct criminal, but also lays
down rules for the conduct of the authorities, often becomes complex in its
application to individual cases, and will from time to time produce imperfect
results, especially if one's attention is confined to the particular case at
bar. Some criminals do go free because of the necessity of keeping
government and its servants in their place. That is one of the costs of having
and enforcing a Bill of Rights. This country is built on the assumption that
the cost is worth paying, and that in the long run we are all both freer and
safer if the Constitution is strictly enforced."
—Williams v. Nix, 700 F. 2d 1164, 1173 (8th Cir. 1983) (Richard Sheppard Arnold, J.), rev'd Nix v. Williams, 467 US. 431 (1984).
"The criminal goes free, if he must, but it is the law that sets him free. Nothing
can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws,
or worse, its disregard of the charter of its own existence."
—Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 659 (1961).
Any costs the exclusionary rule are costs imposed directly by the Fourth Amendment.
—Yale Kamisar, 86 Mich.L.Rev. 1, 36 n. 151 (1987).
"There have been powerful hydraulic pressures throughout our history that
bear heavily on the Court to water down constitutional guarantees and give the
police the upper hand. That hydraulic pressure has probably never been greater
than it is today."
— Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 39 (1968) (Douglas, J., dissenting).
"The great end, for which men entered into society, was to secure their
—Entick v. Carrington, 19 How.St.Tr. 1029, 1066, 95 Eng. Rep. 807 (C.P. 1765)
"It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have
frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people. And
so, while we are concerned here with a shabby defrauder, we must deal with his
case in the context of what are really the great themes expressed by the Fourth
—United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, 69 (1950) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting)
"The course of true law pertaining to searches and seizures, as enunciated
here, has not–to put it mildly–run smooth."
—Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610, 618 (1961) (Frankfurter, J., concurring).
"A search is a search, even if it happens to disclose nothing but the
bottom of a turntable."
—Arizona v. Hicks, 480 U.S. 321, 325 (1987)
"For the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly
exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth
Amendment protection. ... But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in
an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected."
—Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967)
“Experience should teach us to be most on guard to
protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born
to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded
rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men
of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
—United States v. Olmstead, 277 U.S. 438, 479 (1925) (Brandeis, J., dissenting)
“Liberty—the freedom from unwarranted
intrusion by government—is as easily lost through insistent nibbles by
government officials who seek to do their jobs too well as by those whose purpose
it is to oppress; the piranha can be as deadly as the shark.”
—United States v. $124,570, 873 F.2d 1240, 1246 (9th Cir. 1989)
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But if you try sometimes / You just might find / You get what you need."
—Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
"In Germany, they first came for the communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for
the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Catholic. Then they came
for me–and by that time there was nobody left to speak up."
—Martin Niemöller (1945) [he served seven years in a concentration camp]
“You know, most men would get discouraged by
now. Fortunately for you, I am not most men!”
—Pepé Le Pew
"There is never enough time, unless you are serving it."
"The point of the Fourth Amendment, which often is not grasped by zealous officers, is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence. Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime."
—Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13-14 (1948)