ERIN A. POHLAND, Appellant,
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.
of Order: January 30, 2019
from the District Court No. 3AN-12-1066 C R, Third Judicial
District, Anchorage, Jo-Ann Chung, Judge.
Cynthia L. Strout, Anchorage, for the Appellant.
Stryszak, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal
Appeals, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General,
Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard and Wollenberg,
Pohland, a former assistant attorney general, appeals her
conviction for official misconduct, AS 11.56.850(a). The
State alleged that Pohland used her position as legal advisor
to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency to benefit her personal
friend, Skye McRoberts.
the evidence against Pohland was based on information
obtained during a search of her personal computer. This
computer was seized when the state troopers executed a search
warrant for Skye McRoberts's house - where Pohland was
renting an apartment. The troopers were looking for evidence
of McRoberts 's potential business and financial
crimes, but they seized Pohland's computer under the
theory that McRoberts might have hidden evidence of her
crimes in any computer or electronic storage device located
within the house - even Pohland's personal laptop, which
was found in Pohland's apartment.
contends that the search of her computer violated her rights
under the Fourth Amendment and under the corresponding
provision of the Alaska Constitution (Article I, Section 14).
We agree with Pohland that the search of her computer was
unlawful. Even when the police have a warrant to search a
house, a personal computer must be treated differently from
other objects or containers in the house. As the United
States Supreme Court explained in Riley v.
California, a police search of this kind of personal
digital device "[will] typically expose to the
government far more than the most exhaustive search of a
[person's] house", because the device "not only
contains in digital form many sensitive records previously
found in the home", but also "a broad array of
private information never found in a home in any
explain in this opinion, the troopers did not have probable
cause to believe that Pohland's personal laptop computer
contained evidence of her landlord's financial and
business crimes. Moreover, rather than confining their search
to documents and spreadsheets (i.e., computer files
that were more likely to contain evidence of financial and
business crimes), the troopers obtained much of the evidence
against Pohland by combing through thousands of Pohland's
personal text messages. (Pohland was using her laptop
computer as a backup device for the data stored on her smart
these reasons, we reverse Pohland's conviction.
and Skye McRoberts were close friends, and Pohland lived in
an apartment (i.e., a suite of rooms) within
was also an assistant attorney general who advised the Alaska
Labor Relations Agency - the agency within the executive
branch that dealt with labor union matters.
friend McRoberts worked as a union organizer for the Alaska
State Employees Association. The State Employees Association
was engaged in an effort to unionize the employees of the
University of Alaska. In connection with this effort,
McRoberts submitted employee "interest" cards to
the Labor Relations Agency - cards purporting to express the
interest of various University employees in becoming members
of the union. (Under Alaska law, at least 30 percent of a
proposed bargaining unit must express interest in becoming
Labor Relations Agency came to suspect that a number of these
interest cards might have been forged, so the Agency
contacted Pohland for advice. Based on the advice that
Pohland gave to the Labor Relations Agency, Pohland was
charged with official misconduct.
the State alleged that Pohland failed to tell the Agency that
she was close friends with McRoberts, that she lived in an
apartment within McRoberts's home, that she had regularly
discussed the unionization effort with McRoberts, and that
she had assisted McRoberts in this effort. The State further
alleged that Pohland's advice to the Labor Relations
Agency was designed to shield her friend McRoberts from any
official investigation into the possibility that McRoberts
had forged, or had colluded in forging, the employee interest
seizure and search of Pohland's computer, and the
litigation of the suppression motion in the trial court
March 2011, the Alaska State Troopers obtained a warrant to
search McRoberts's house for evidence that she and her
husband, Donavahn McRoberts, had committed forgery and
falsification of business records relating to the forged
interest cards. More specifically, the search warrant
authorized the troopers to search the house for various kinds
of documents "related to the business and finances"
of McRoberts and her husband, as well as documents related to
the solicitation of potential union members from the
University of Alaska.
the troopers applied for this search warrant, they knew that
Pohland was good friends with McRoberts, they knew that the
Labor Relations Agency had sought advice from Pohland
regarding the forged interest cards, and they knew that there
were reasons to question the competence of Pohland's
advice to the Labor Relations Agency.
particular, the search warrant affidavit recited that
Pohland's advice to the Labor Relations Agency "did
not follow the guidelines for forged Interest Cards laid out
in a National Labor Relations Manual". The search
warrant affidavit also asserted that Pohland "failed to
advise [the Agency] to contact law enforcement to investigate
the matter", and that Pohland failed to tell the Labor
Relations Agency that she was good friends with McRoberts and
that McRoberts was her landlord.
both the troopers and the prosecutor assigned to the case
later conceded that, when the troopers applied for the
warrant, they did not have probable cause to believe that
Pohland was complicit in McRoberts's crimes.
search warrant issued by the district court contained a
provision authorizing the troopers to seize and search any
computer or electronic storage media "capable of
concealing documents related to the business and finances
associated with Donavahn McRoberts or Skye McRoberts."
the troopers' ensuing search of McRoberts's house,
the troopers identified Pohland's separate apartment
within the house. This area of the house did not have
separate egress to the street, but it was a suite of rooms
comprising a bedroom, a separate kitchen, a separate
bathroom, and a clothes washer and dryer.
the troopers were searching Pohland's apartment, they
seized a laptop computer. At the time, the troopers
conducting the search presumed that the laptop belonged to
Pohland. A subsequent examination of the laptop's hard
drive confirmed this assumption. The laptop contained
numerous documents belonging to Pohland, as well as thousands
of text messages between Pohland and various people (backup
copies of texts from Pohland's mobile phone).
these text messages were exchanged between Pohland and
McRoberts, and some of these text messages appeared to
discuss the campaign to unionize the university workers.
These text messages became part of the State's case
against Pohland when she was later charged with ...