(CN) – Federal officials improperly seized a list of 104 Major League Baseball players who tested positive for steroids in 2003, the 9th Circuit ruled. Agents had a search warrant for drug-test results for 10 players, but found a list of 104 players who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
Officials used the longer list to get more search warrants, copied the entire computer directory and recorded all the players’ names.
The government should have taken only the results of the 10 players listed on the search warrant, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The case springs from the 2004 raid on a Long Beach, Calif., testing facility, during the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, which was suspected of providing steroids to players.
“This was an obvious case of deliberate overreaching by the government in an effort to seize data as to which it lacked probable cause,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the San Francisco-based appeals court.
The decision may help narrow the focus of the “in plain view” doctrine of the Fourth Amendment as it relates to electronic searches where data are intermingled.
“This case well illustrates both the challenges faced by modern law enforcement in retrieving information it needs to pursue and prosecute wrongdoers, and the threat to the privacy of innocent parties from a criminal investigation,” Kozinski wrote.
Several federal judges had found the searches invalid and said the records should be returned. In December 2006, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit found that the list of 104 players could be used.
The full circuit tossed that decision and put the case before an 11-judge panel.