Seventh Circuit holds garage door opener is not to be treated like cell phone for Fourth Amendment purposes.

In this narcotics trafficking appeal, federal agents found narcotics and several garage openers and keys during a lawful traffic stop. An agent then drove around 18th and Michigan near downtown Chicago clicking the openers until one opened. The agent then used a seized key fob and mailbox key to target the specific unit where they believed they would find evidence of drug trafficking.

During a Motion to Suppress, multiple issues were raised, including the legality of the traffic stop and the search of the car. When it came to the issue of the use of the garage door opener, the Court decided that the use of the opener was a search, but that the search was reasonable.

The Court rejected the defense argument that Riley v. California, which bars the warrantless search of the contents of a cell phone, controls this case. The Seventh Circuit analogized the use of the opener to a search of a wallet or an address book because the garage door opener’s use would reveal an address.

The Court left for another day the issue of what would happen if the agents had used the openers to open a private garage in which a resident had a reasonable expectation of privacy and then used what they saw to pursue further inquiries.

The case is United States v. Correa, 908 F.3d 208, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 31204, 2018 WL 5780728 (7th Cir.) November 5, 2018.

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