CA11: Health care fraud records SW permitted search of VCR tapes

After a year long investigation, officers obtained a search warrant for defendant’s medical clinic for health care fraud. They found videotapes in a cluttered backroom, and, based on the warrant, believed that they could contain evidence of the alleged fraud. Instead, they contained child pornography. Defendant argued that videotapes are old technology and logically current clinic operations would not be found there. Nevertheless, officers could look there within the warrant. United States v. Moon, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 12560 (11th Cir. May 10, 2022):

We conclude that Agent Green’s search of the videotapes was within the scope of the clinic search warrant and, therefore, did not violate Moon’s Fourth Amendment rights. The search warrant application expressly included “videotapes” in its definition of “‘records’ and ‘documents.'” And the warrant authorized seizure of “tapes.” Given this authorization, Agent Green was entitled to examine each of the tapes he found to perceive their relevance to the crime. See Slocum, 708 F.2d at 604. And this is exactly what he did, by watching a small amount of each tape. Watching each one was the “only means” for Agent Green to determine whether each particular tape fell within the warrant. See id. at 604.

Moon argues that videotapes are too obsolete a technology for a reasonable agent to believe they might contain evidence of his clinic’s operations, and so even a brief look to see if they were relevant was unreasonable. Videotapes are so obsolete, he argues, that the government felt the need to have Agent Green explain to the jury what videotapes and VCRs even are. We are not persuaded. As we mentioned, the warrant expressly provided for the seizure of tapes. The TV/VCR in Moon’s office was plugged in, indicating to Agent Green that the device was operational. And Agent Green found evidence that Moon had at least one hidden camera device in the office, leading him to believe, reasonably, that the tapes might contain footage related to the clinic’s operations, such as footage of incomplete exams or even footage that would show the location of other hidden cameras. We conclude that Agent Green’s search of the tapes was “reasonably required to locate the items described in the warrant.” See Wuagneux, 683 F.2d at 1352.

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