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Warrants – Scope – Business Records

State v. Louis H. LaCount, 2008 WI 59, affirming 2007 WI App 116
For LaCount: T. Christopher Kelly

Issue: Whether execution of a search warrant for business records exceeded the warrant’s scope in that the warrant: authorized only the search for and seizure of records that related to a specific business with specifically named clients; and also authorized only a search of that business’s office space and not the defendant’s personal office within that space.

Holding:

¶38         A search warrant’s execution must be conducted reasonably, and the search and seizure must be limited to the scope that is permitted by the warrant. State v. Andrews, 201 Wis. 2d 383, 390, 549 N.W.2d 210 (1996). Whether a seized item is properly within the search warrant’s scope depends on the search warrant’s terms and on the nature of the items that were seized. Id. at 390-91. The search warrant here was a premises warrant. [8] This court has held that a premises warrant generally “authorizes the search of all items on the premises so long as those items are plausible receptacles of the objects of the search.” Id. at 389. We continued by stating, “‘A lawful search of fixed premises generally extends to the entire area in which the object of the search may be found and is not limited by the possibility that separate acts of entry or opening may be required to complete the search.'” Id. at 389-90 (citation omitted).

¶39        We find LaCount’s assertion that the police exceeded the scope of the search warrant by searching LaCount’s personal office within GP&L’s office to be without merit. Because, the search warrant was a premises warrant, the police were entitled to search the entire premises, including the items within the premises, so long as such items were “plausible receptacles of the objects of the search.” Id. at 389. As a result, the search of LaCount’s personal office within GP&L’s office was warranted, because his office’s furnishings were plausible receptacles that were very likely to have contained the items that the search warrant authorized to be searched for and seized. Lawful searches, as here, may extend “‘to the entire area in which the object of the search may be found and [are] not limited by the possibility that separate acts of entry or opening may be required to complete the search.'” Id. at 389-90 (citation omitted).

¶41      We similarly hold that LaCount’s assertion that the police exceeded the scope of the search warrant by seizing records of GP&L’s clients other than those specifically named in the warrant is without merit. The DeSmidt decision is especially helpful on the issue relating to whether the police exceeded the scope of the search warrant. State v. DeSmidt, 155 Wis. 2d 119, 133-34, 454 N.W.2d 780 (1990). In that case, we stated that, when “there is probable cause to believe that there exists a pervasive scheme to defraud, all the records of a business may be seized.” Id. (citation omitted).

 

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