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Can police take your computer when they accuse you of a crime?

On Behalf of | Feb 6, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Many people come under law enforcement scrutiny and may face criminal accusations. One pressing concern may be whether the police in Pennsylvania have the authority to seize personal computers during such investigations.

In Pennsylvania, police do have the authority to seize property, including computers, if they have probable cause to believe that the items in question have links to criminal activity. This authority is not limitless, though, and is subject to constitutional constraints.

Probable cause and computer seizures

In Pennsylvania, 91.9% of households have a computer. The cornerstone of police action in seizing a computer is the concept of probable cause. Probable cause refers to the reasonable belief that a crime occurred, is occurring or will occur. When police can demonstrate such a belief to a judge, they may get a search warrant, which enables them to seize a computer for further examination.

Search warrants

In some cases, law enforcement may face challenges in providing comprehensive and convincing details about why they believe a particular computer has links to criminal activity. Insufficient supporting information can undermine the legitimacy of the search warrant request.

Search warrant requests for computer seizures often involve a delicate balance between law enforcement’s investigative needs and individuals’ right to privacy. Judges must weigh the potential intrusion into personal and private information against the necessity of the seizure for the investigation. Privacy concerns can lead to denial of the search warrant.


While search warrants are the typical route for computer seizures, certain exceptions exist. In urgent situations, where waiting for a warrant could result in the destruction of evidence or pose a threat to public safety, law enforcement may seize a computer without a warrant. However, they must later justify this action before a court.

Being aware of these nuances can help individuals navigate the complexities of criminal investigations in the digital age.

Pennsylvania Drunk Driving Defense: Law, Tactics, and Procedure | by Patrick F. Lauer, Jr. | Revere Legal Publishers