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Police search of Langley grow-op upheld

The Langley RCMP did not go too far when they gathered evidence from one of two computers and a cell phone found inside a marijuana growing operation, a B.C. Court of Appeal tribunal has ruled.

The verdict was a victory for the police and Crown prosecutor and a setback for Thanh Long Vu, the owner of an 84 Avenue property that was raided by the Langley RCMP drug section on Sept. 6, 2007.

What is described as a large marijuana growing operation with more than 1,000 plants was discovered in the basement of the house.

Also found during the search was a cell phone and two computers, a desktop and a laptop.

The officers found evidence in the computers and cell phone that they said connected Vu to the grow operation, including security video recordings on the desktop that showed a Honda CRV registered to Vu coming and going from the house, a resume in his name on the laptop and photograph of Vu on the cell phone.

It was, the court was told, “standard practice for members of the Langley Drug Section to examine non-password-protected computers and cellular telephones for evidence of ownership or occupancy” during a raid.

During Vu’s trial, a B.C. Supreme Court judge threw out the evidence from the cell phone and portable computer, saying the warrant authorizing a police search of the premises should have specifically included a reference to “electronic documents.”

The video evidence from the desktop computer was allowed.

The Crown prosecutors’ office challenged the ruling.

In a written decision released on Dec. 28, a three-judge B.C. Court of Appeal panel said the warrant did not need to mention “electronic documents” like the resume found on the laptop.

The warrant gave the officers the power to look for any documents that would identify the owner of the grow op, the judges ruled, and that applied to both the paper and electronic varieties.

In their ruling, the judges also noted the law governing search and seizure limits the extent of a police look-through of a computer or cell phone and does not allow them to “scour” the entire contents of a hard drive.

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