M.D.Pa.: 13 month delay between seizure of 2 cell phones and their search was not unreasonable

13 month delay between seizure of two cell phones and their search was not unreasonable on the totality. United States v. Wright, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73534 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 16, 2021):

As recognized in Stabile, “defendants who ‘never sought return of the property’ cannot argue that delay adversely affected Fourth Amendment rights.” 633 F.3d at 236 (quoting United States v. Johns, 469 U.S. 478, 105 S. Ct. 881, 83 L. Ed. 2d 890 (1985)). Further, as discussed above, the propriety of the retention of the seized phones for their evidentiary value in this drug case, irrespective of the content of the phones, further diminishes Defendant’s property interest in the phones while the case is ongoing. For this reason, the concern in Burgard that “the longer the police take to seek a warrant, the greater the infringement on the person’s possessory interest will be,” 675 F.3d at 1033, is inapplicable because the propriety of the retention of the seized property was not dependent on securing a search warrant. Rather, based on the phones’ independent evidentiary value, the duration of the retention would not have been shortened if a warrant had been obtained sooner. For these reasons, the Court concludes that Defendant has a negligible possessory interest in the property seized.

On balance, given the strength of the government’s initial and ongoing interest in the seizure, the rationale provided for the delay, and Defendant’s negligible property interest in his phones, the delay from the time of the federal Indictment to the application for the search warrant was reasonable. The thirteen-month period is a closer call than the two-month period following the Indictment. However, based on the circumstances of this case—particularly Defendant’s negligible property interest in the cell phones, the multijurisdictional aspects of the case, the fact that the federal case began eleven months after the state case, and the two-fold evidentiary value related to the phones, i.e., the phones themselves separate from the contents of the phones–the Court concludes that the delay did not violate Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.

With this determination, the Court declines Defendant’s request that the Court consider an additional factor, prejudice to the defendant, in determining the reasonableness of the delay in this case. (Doc. 125 at 6, 8.) The Court’s reason for doing so is twofold. First, the prejudice is unrelated to the thirteen-month period of delay at issue with Defendant’s claimed Fourth Amendment violation. Second, the Court finds no alternative grounds upon which to base a determination that the prejudice alleged would warrant precluding phone-related evidence.

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