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Borderline conduct at the border? Focus on Fourth Amendment

You know that expression "adding insult to injury"?

Here's a case where it could apply big time.

Imagine that you're just concluding an international trip and headed back home to North Carolina. Your vacation was great, but the journey home has been, well, lousy. It involved a tandem bus/plane component, and both of those travel elements were off-the-charts bad.

And now you stand before a customs official, who has signaled several of his colleagues to come on over and be subjected to further scrutiny. Your carefully packed clothes and other articles are summarily dumped upside down on a table. You are interrogated over myriad aspects of your journey.

And then -- out of the blue -- they confiscate your laptop computer and smartphone, promising their return at some unspecified future point.

That is, after they send those electronic storage devices to an FBI forensics lab, where their entire contents will be extracted and examined for evidence that might link you to a crime.

Can they do that?

Point of fact: American border agents have been acting similarly for years, proceeding from the assumption -- as stated in a recent media expose on the limited role that Fourth Amendment protections play at America's international borders -- that "protection from unreasonable search and seizure doesn't apply at the border."

But that could be changing, as evidenced by a growing body of federal court rulings that clearly take umbrage with the idea that authorities can simply act with impunity and without any governors on their conduct at border checkpoints.

One recent case demanded that all evidence extracted from a seized laptop be suppressed, given that officials lacked probable cause to conduct a search/seizure in the first place.

That ruling prompted the comment from one constitutional observer that "the Fourth Amendment does not disappear at the border."

Other federal courts have also ruled that authorities must have some reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before they can conduct forensic searches on electronic devices.

Clearly, and in this high-tech age, citizens need all the legal help they can get when their presence and activities loom as bulls-eye targets for criminal law authorities seeking to probe into their personal lives.

North Carolina residents with questions or concerns about search/seizure issues or any other aspect of a criminal law investigation can obtain prompt answers and aggressive representation from an experienced defense attorney.

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