Search warrants are the preferred method of authority to search for evidence, regardless of what is to be searched, as search warrants are met with the least resistance both on the scene and in court. The search warrant allows an investigator to go through a subject (house, car, container, media) and seize evidence.
Be certain that your search warrant contains the language to specify what is to be seized and searched. You are cautioned against using boilerplate language. Having a go-by can be useful as long as each investigator tailors the warrant to that specific case.
Your warrant must clearly define the role of the computer or mobile device as it relates to your criminal investigation.
You want to define your nexus of your investigation to the electronics or other media and why you expect to find evidence during your search. This could be as simple as your target has been shown to utilize a smartphone to initiate online transfers of funds for illegal purposes.
The search warrant will need to specify what evidence you are seeking based on probable cause. This would include ownership of the electronics that are of interest to the investigation.
Included the location where the electronics search will be executed; if that is the location of your agency’s forensic unit, list that. If the location is a neighboring agency, list that location. Keep in mind that the amount of information stored on mobile devices has increased exponentially, and it can take hours, if not days, to extract data before analysis of that data.
It may be necessary to include “DO NOT DISCLOSE” or similar language in the search warrant. This is to protect confidential informants or to comply with non-disclosures with technology companies that do not want the technology used in the extraction process made public.
Some considerations need to be in place concerning investigations that may involve attorneys, clergy, doctors, or any other relationship that can be protected by law.
In every case, if you have any questions consult your prosecutor’s office.