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Question: nicolai caymen worked as a desk clerk at a hotel...

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Nicolai Caymen worked as a desk clerk at a hotel in Ketchikan, Alaska. After a woman called a Ketchikan business supply store and complained that the store had charged her credit card for a laptop computer she did not purchase, the store discovered that Caymen had used a credit card in placing a telephone order for the laptop and that when he picked up the computer, the store clerk had not asked for identification. Store personnel then contacted the Ketchikan police department to report the incident and to pass along information, acquired from other stores, indicating that Caymen may have attempted similar credit card trickery elsewhere.

In order to look for the laptop and other evidence of credit card fraud, the police obtained a search warrant for the house where Caymen rented a room. Caymen, who was present while his room was searched, denied the allegation that he had used someone else’s credit card to acquire the laptop. Instead, he stated that he had bought it with his own credit card. During the search, the police found the laptop and a tower computer. It was later determined that Caymen had rented the tower computer from a store but had never made any of the required payments. In Caymen’s wallet, which the police examined in connection with the search of his room, the officers found receipts containing the names and credit card information of guests who had stayed at the hotel where Caymen was employed.

The police seized the laptop and contacted the store where Caymen had acquired it to ask whether officers could examine the laptop’s hard drive before they returned the computer to the store. The store’s owner consented. In examining the laptop’s hard drive for evidence of credit card fraud, the police found evidence indicating Caymen’s probable commission of federal crimes unrelated to credit card fraud. The police then temporarily suspended their search of the hard drive and obtained another search warrant because they had probable cause to believe that Caymen had committed federal offenses. Under that search warrant, officers checked the hard drives and storage media from the laptop and tower computers and found further evidence pertaining to the federal crimes.

Caymen was prosecuted in state court for credit card fraud and was indicted in federal court for the separate federal offenses. In the federal proceeding, he asked the court to suppress (i.e., rule inadmissible) the evidence obtained by the police in their examinations of the hard drives of the laptop and tower computers. Caymen based his suppression request on this multipart theory: that the police had no valid warrant for their initial look at the laptop’s hard drive; that in the absence of a valid warrant, his consent (rather than the store owner’s) was needed to justify a search of the laptop’s hard drive; that the evidence obtained during the initial examination of the laptop’s hard drive was the result of an unconstitutional search and was therefore inadmissible; and that the evidence obtained in the later examinations of the hard drives of the laptop and tower computers amounted to inadmissible “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

As you read Chapter 5, consider these questions:

  • On what constitutional provision was Caymen basing his challenge to the validity of the searches conducted by the police?

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  • Must law enforcement officers always have a warrant before they conduct a search, or are warrantless searches sometimes permissible? If warrantless searches are sometimes permissible, when?

  • What is the usual remedy when law enforcement officers conduct an unconstitutional search?

  • Did Caymen succeed with his challenge to the validity of the searches conducted by the police? Why or why not?

  • What if a guilty person goes free as a result of a court’s ruling that he was subjected to an unconstitutional search by law enforcement officers? From an ethical perspective, how would utilitarians view that outcome? What about rights theorists?

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