452 F.3d 1140 (9th Cir. 2006), 05-50092, United States v. Adjani

Docket Nº:05-50092.
Citation:452 F.3d 1140
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Christopher Lee ADJANI; Jana Reinhold, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 11, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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452 F.3d 1140 (9th Cir. 2006)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Christopher Lee ADJANI; Jana Reinhold, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 05-50092.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

July 11, 2006

Argued and Submitted Jan. 13, 2006.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Elyssa Getreu, Erik M. Silber, Assistant United States Attorney, Debra Wong Yang, U.S. Attorney, Los Angeles, CA, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Marilyn E. Bednarski, Kaye, McLane & Bednarski, LLP, Pasadena, CA, for defendant-appellee Jana Reinhold.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Terry J. Hatter, Chief District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CR-04-00199-TJH-01.

Before: Mary M. Schroeder, Chief Judge, Daniel M. Friedman[*] and Raymond C. Fisher, Circuit Judges.


FISHER, Circuit Judge:

While executing a search warrant at the home of defendant Christopher Adjani to obtain evidence of his alleged extortion, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized Adjani's computer and external storage devices, which were later searched at an FBI computer lab. They also seized and subsequently searched a computer belonging to defendant Jana Reinhold, who lived with Adjani, even though she had not at that point been identified as a suspect and was not named as a target in the warrant. Some of the emails found on Reinhold's computer chronicled conversations between her and Adjani that implicated her in the extortion plot. Relying in part on the incriminating emails, the government charged both Adjani and Reinhold with conspiring to commit extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 and transmitting a threatening communication with intent to extort in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(d).

The defendants brought motions to suppress the emails, arguing that the warrant did not authorize the seizure and search of Reinhold's computer and its contents; but if it did, the warrant was unconstitutionally overbroad or, alternatively, the emails fell outside the scope of the warrant. The district court granted the defendants' motion to suppress the email communications between Reinhold and Adjani, finding that

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the agents did not have sufficient probable cause to search Reinhold's computer, and that once they discovered information incriminating her, the agents should have obtained an additional search warrant. The government appeals this evidentiary ruling, but only with respect to three emails dated January 12, 2004.

The district court's ruling on the motion to suppress is subject to de novo review. United States v. Vargas-Castillo, 329 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 2003). We review de novo a district court's determination regarding the specificity of a warrant, including whether it is overbroad or not sufficiently particular. United States v. Wong, 334 F.3d 831, 836-37 (9th Cir. 2003). We hold that the government had probable cause to search Reinhold's computer, the warrant satisfied our test for specificity and the seized e-mail communications fell within the scope of the properly issued warrant.1 accordingly, we reverse the district court's order suppressing the January 12, 2004 email communications between Reinhold and Adjani.

I. Background

A. The Extortion Scheme2

Adjani was once employed by Paycom Billing Services Inc. (formerly Epoch), which facilitates payments from Internet users to its client websites. As a payment facilitator, Pay-com receives and stores vast amounts of data containing credit card information. On January 8, 2004, a woman (later identified as Reinhold) delivered envelopes to three Paycom partners, Christopher Mallick, Clay Andrews and Joel Hall. Each envelope contained a letter from Adjani advising that he had purchased a copy of Paycom's database containing its clients' sensitive financial information. The letter threatened that Adjani would sell the Paycom database and master client control list if he did not receive $3 million. To prove his threats were real, Adjani included samples of the classified data. He directed the Paycom partners to sign an enclosed agreement attesting to the proposed quid pro quo and fax it back to him by January 12. The letter included Adjani's email address, cadjani@mac.com, and a fax number. Agents later learned that Adjani's email address was billed to Reinhold's account.

Evidence suggested that Adjani left Los Angeles on January 9, 2004, and ultimately ended up in Zurich, Switzerland. From Switzerland, Adjani sent an email on January 12 to Joel Hall to confirm that Hall and the others had received the envelopes. Adjani followed up on this email on January 13 by instructing Hall to contact him through AOL/Mac iChat instant messaging if he wanted to discuss the settlement agreement. With the FBI monitoring, Hall conversed several times with Adjani on the Internet and over the telephone. In spite of Adjani's insistence that he remain overseas, Hall convinced him to come to Los Angeles on January 26 to pick up $2.5 million in exchange for the database.

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Adjani returned to Los Angeles on January 22, under FBI surveillance. Reinhold, driving in a car that the FBI had earlier identified as Adjani's, was observed leaving Adjani's residence in Venice, California, picking him up from the airport and returning to his residence. The FBI also observed Reinhold using an Apple computer, the same brand of computer Adjani used to email and chat with Paycom.

B. Obtaining and Executing the Search Warrant

On January 23, 2004, based on the facts recited above and attested to in FBI Agent Cloney's affidavit (which was affixed to the warrant), a federal magistrate judge granted the government an arrest warrant for Adjani and a search warrant covering Adjani's Venice residence, his vehicle, his person and the residence of the individual who had stolen the confidential information from Paycom. The warrant specifically sought "evidence of violations of [18 U.S.C. § 875(d)]: Transmitting Threatening Communications With Intent to Commit Extortion." Further, the warrant expressly authorized seizure of:

5g. Records, documents and materials containing Paycom's or Epoch's master client control documents, Paycom's or Epoch's email database, or other company information relating to Paycom or Epoch.

5h. Records, documents and materials which reflect communications with Christopher Mallick, Clay Andrews, Joel Hall or other employees or officers of Paycom or Epoch.

5i. Any and all evidence of travel, including hotel bills and receipts, gasoline receipts, plane tickets, bus tickets, train tickets, or any other documents related to travel from January 8, 2004 to the present.


5k. Computer, hard drives, computer disks, CD's, and other computer storage devices.

With respect to the computer search, the warrant prescribed the process to be followed: "In searching the data, the computer personnel will examine all of the data contained in the computer equipment and storage devices to view their precise contents and determine whether the data falls within the items to be seized as set forth herein." Additionally, it noted that "[i]n order to search for data that is capable of being read or intercepted by a computer, law enforcement personnel will need to seize and search .... [a]ny computer equipment and storage device capable of being used to commit, further, or store evidence of the offense listed above."

On January 26, 2004, agents observed Reinhold driving Adjani, in a car registered to him, to his meeting with Pay-com. While Adjani went into a hotel, Reinhold slipped into the backseat of his car, placing curtains over the windows. At this point, agents proceeded to search Adjani's car. That same day, agents executed the search warrant for Adjani's Venice residence. There they found and seized various computers and hard drives, including Reinhold's computer, which were later sent to an FBI computer lab to be searched. During that search process, the hard drive from Reinhold's computer revealed certain email correspondence between Reinhold and Adjani, implicating Reinhold in the extortion plot and supporting a charge of conspiracy against both of them.

The defendants successfully sought suppression of these seized email communications in the district court. This appeal requires us to determine whether the agents permissibly searched Reinhold's computer; whether the warrant satisfied our specificity standards; and whether the

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emails seized fell within the scope of the otherwise properly issued warrant.

II. Analysis

A. Probable Cause

The government principally argues that contrary to the district court's finding and the defendants' assertions, the search warrant affidavit established probable cause to search all instrumentalities that might contain "evidence of violations of" 18 U.S.C. § 875(d), including Reinhold's computer and emails. Reinhold counters that the affidavit may have generally established probable cause, but did not do so with respect to her computer, because "[i]n the affidavit, Reinhold was not labeled as a target, suspect, or co-conspirator."

1. Probable cause to issue the warrant

"A search warrant . . . is issued upon a showing of probable cause to believe that the legitimate object of a search is located in a particular place, and therefore safeguards an individual's interest in the privacy of his home and possessions against the unjustified intrusion of the police." Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 213, 101 S.Ct. 1642, 68 L.Ed.2d 38 (1981). As the Supreme Court has explained, the "probable cause standard . . . is a practical, nontechnical conception." Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 231, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527...

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