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Electronic copies of warrants are equal to paper copies

January 17, 2017

An electronic version of a signed search warrant is legally considered the equivalent of a paper warrant, the Indiana Court of Appeals has held, so a man’s constitutional rights were not violated when an officer drew his blood after showing him only a photo of a warrant in an email.

In Edward Taylor v. State of Indiana, 32A05-1608-CR-1720, Edward Taylor was found passed out in his running vehicle at 2:30 p.m. last March. Hendricks County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Parrott and Avon Police Department Sgt. Jennifer Brahaum each observed signs of intoxication in Taylor, and after he failed two field sobriety tests, Brahaum transported Taylor to a local hospital for a blood draw.

However, once he arrived at the hospital, Taylor refused the blood draw, so Brahaum contacted the prosecutor’s office to obtain a search warrant. In the interest of time, the prosecutor’s office emailed a picture of the signed warrant to Brahaum’s phone. However, Taylor continued to resist because he was not given a hard copy of the warrant, and an ensuing scuffle resulted in Brahaum sustaining a sprained thumb and several scratches on her arms.

Taylor eventually complied with the blood draw and was charged with battery as a Level 5 felony, resisting law enforcement as a Level 6 felony, and driving while suspended and operating a vehicle while intoxicated, both Class A misdemeanors. He filed a motion to suppress the blood draw evidence, arguing that the electronic search warrant was not sufficient. The Hendricks Superior Court denied the motion, prompting Taylor’s appeal.

Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Margaret Robb wrote in a Tuesday opinion that Taylor’s belief that officers must have a physical copy of a warrant at the time of a search is incorrect.  There are two arguments that Taylor makes, Robb wrote for the panel, and both legally fail.

First, Taylor asserts that an officer must have a physical copy of the warrant when it is served upon the person to be searched. But neither federal nor state statute requires service of a copy of the warrant on the person who is the subject of the search, Robb wrote.

Further, Taylor argues that an officer must have a physical copy of the warrant in hand at the time of the search. But Indiana Code 35-33-5-8(d) allows for a judge to transmit a duplicate copy of a warrant via electronic means as long as the affidavit and warrant are printed and retained as if they were original.

“The statute therefore preserves the creation of a permanent written record of the warrant proceedings to protect the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights while allowing for efficient use of technology in the process,” Robb wrote. “A photograph or PDF of a search warrant transmitted via email is as valid and effective as a paper copy.”
 

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