Cotterman was later arrested and indicted on several charges related to child pornography.
Cotterman filed a motion asking that the evidence found by lab personnel be suppressed because it had been gathered in violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search.
A magistrate judge and a district court judge concurred with Cotterman and held that the government needed to have a specific suspicion to conduct such an extended search. The judges ruled that since customs agents did not have any reasonable suspicion that contraband would be found on Cotterman's computers, they violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
In its appeal, the government contended that the border search doctrine allows such actions even without reasonable suspicion or cause.
In upholding that argument, the Ninth Circuit court noted that several other courts and even the U.S. Supreme Court have consistently recognized that all border searches are reasonable simply because they occur at the border.
"The sticking point is whether the inherent power of the Government to subject incoming travelers to inspection before entry also permits the Government to transport property not yet cleared for entry away from the border to complete its search," Judge Richard Tallman wrote for the majority opinion.
In this case, Tallman ruled that such transportation is justified because the forensic tools need to adequately search the computers were located at another facility.
"The border search doctrine is not so rigid as to require the United States to equip every entry point -- no matter how desolate or infrequently traveled -- with inspectors and sophisticated forensic equipment," Tallman said in his ruling.
In situations where "logic and practicality" may require equipment presented at the border to be transported to another location, the government needs to show no "heightened suspicion" to justify it, the court ruled.
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