SAN FRANCISCO — An appeals court ruled Wednesday that federal agents were wrong to seize an infamous drug list of 104 Major League Baseball players who allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
In a 9-2 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with three lower court judges who chastised investigators who had a warrant for only 10 drug test results.
The full list implicated such stars as Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
The panel said the agents trampled on players' protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
During the April 2004 raid, agents sifted through a computer hard drive at Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc. in Long Beach, Calif., containing material related to testing for 13 other sports organizations and three businesses.
Since then, the Major League Baseball Players Association has been locked in a fierce legal battle with the government over the appropriateness of the seizure
"This was an obvious case of deliberate overreaching by the government in an effort to seize data as to which it lacked probable cause," wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.
He said the case was a significant test of the government's search and seizure powers in the digital age, and issued guidelines for investigators to follow in future raids that included submitting computers to independent computer experts for sorting of data.
U.S. attorney spokesman Jack Gillund in San Francisco said the government was reviewing its options, which could include an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Players association lawyer Elliot Peters said the union was happy with the ruling but still angry that someone has leaked the names of several players to journalists. Peters said judges had ordered the list to remain confidential throughout the litigation.
"The leaks were crimes," Peters said. "The people who committed the crimes should be investigated and punished."
Peters declined to say whether he asked a federal judge to look into the leaks.
"If the government hadn't unconstitutionally seized this in the first place, there wouldn't have been any leaks," Peters said.