DE: “Any and all data” on a cell phone was a general warrant

A cell phone search warrant for any and all data without restriction was not particular and amounted to a general warrant. The use of the product of the search was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Taylor v. State, No. 91, 2020 (Del. Sept. 8, 2021):

Although Taylor raises several arguments on appeal, we focus on one argument that is dispositive—whether the warrant to search his smartphones was a general warrant, prohibited by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution, and statutory law. Taylor argues that the warrant was a general warrant, as it authorized a search for “any/all data” stored on his two smartphones and was not limited to specific files or file types. The warrant also placed no time limit on the data searched and collected. Given the importance of the smartphone data to the prosecution’s trial strategy, Taylor claims that the Superior Court’s error was not harmless. He points to the prosecutor’s closing argument, which contained many references to evidence taken from one of the smartphones, including photographs, text messages, and other admissions of criminal activity.

The State responds that the warrant was not a general warrant because the search warrant application contained the dates of events relevant to the investigation which could be used as time limitations. Although the State concedes the warrant was “not as specific as it could have been,” it also claims that this shortcoming was “remedied by limiting the State’s evidence to the timeframe for which the warrant provided probable cause.” Finally, the State claims that any error in admitting the evidence seized from Taylor’s smartphones was harmless because the other admissible evidence of his guilt was “overwhelming,” citing Facebook posts, witnesses, and ballistics reports, among other evidence.

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