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Colorado Supreme Court Strikes Down Sheriff’s Fishing Expedition into Immigrant Tax Files

Jennifer Chang Newell,
Managing Attorney, California Office,
ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project
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December 16, 2009

This week, the Colorado Supreme Court stood up for the privacy rights of all Americans by ruling that the sheriff’s department in Weld County, Colorado, had violated the Fourth Amendment when it carted off 49 boxes of files seized from a local tax preparer’s office and looked through the tax records of approximately 5,000 taxpayers.

The sheriff raided the office on the theory that because the tax preparer — in full compliance with federal law and like many other tax preparation services — provided tax filing services to undocumented immigrants, his deputies were likely to find evidence of identity theft if they rummaged through all of the tax records at the tax preparer’s office.

The Colorado Supreme Court held that the search was unconstitutional because the sheriff had no evidence before he embarked on his fishing expedition that either the tax preparer or any individual taxpayer had committed any crime. The court’s decision made clear that under the federal Internal Revenue Service laws and Colorado laws all Americans have a right to privacy in their tax return information.

The ACLU of Colorado and the ACLU have a related civil case still pending before the Colorado Supreme Court.

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