Today in Peffer v. Stephens, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 1049 (6th Cir.), the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a decision of a district court holding that a warrant to search the home of a person suspected of committing a crime using his computer was supported by probable cause. The lower court granted a Michigan police sergeant summary judgment in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim based on the failure of the warrant to show probable cause for the search because it did not show a connection between the crime and the home.
Peffer had been suspected of the crime of officer impersonation and witness intimidation by sending letters to a local school and child services department The warrant to search his home permitted the search and seizure of, ""records or documents which were created,modified . . . or interpreted by a computer" and more specifically identified to include certain computer hardware, computer-related equipment, peripheral and storage devices, software and other items used for computer operation, communication, encryption, and access, as well as electronic mail ("e-mail") and other electronically stored communications." [id. at 7]. Criminal charges were not filed against Peffer after the seizure of a laptop, two computer towers and other items.
There was evidence that the letters were computer generated. Judge Bush noted it was a question of first impression in the Sixth Circuit whether or not the nature of a computer meant that its use in a crime led to an inference that evidence of a crime was likely to found in a suspect's residence. An assumption can be made that a computer is in the home of its owner if an affidavit does not indicate otherwise. "If an affidavit presents probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed by means of an object,however, a magistrate may presume that there is a nexus between that object and the suspect's current residence, unless the affidavit contains facts that may rebut that presumption." [Id. at 30].
The affidavit's failure to provide evidence that the suspect owned a computer was immaterial because, "the averment that he used one in the commission of a crime is sufficient to create the presumption that it would be found at his residence." [Id. at 36].