Tuesday, December 14, 2010

College Professor's CP Conviction Stands

Here's the down and dirty holding of a recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit regarding the 4th Amendment Warrant Requirement.  Full text of the case (U.S. v. Allen) can be found HERE

The appellant was a college professor before being convicted of receiving Child Pornography.  On appeal he challenged the validity of the search warrant authorizing search of his computer, arguing that it was overbroad and contained stale information.  The 5th Circuit affirmed the conviction.

The court held that the search warrant did not describe with sufficient particularity the items to be seized, and the attachment detailing the items to be seized was not incorporated by reference into the warrant. However, the court concluded that evidence seized during the execution of the search warrant was admissible under the good-faith exception. See U.S. v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (“[O]ur evaluation of the costs and benefits of suppressing reliable physical evidence seized by officers reasonably relying on a warrant issued by a detached and neutral magistrate leads to the conclusion that such evidence should be admissible․”).  

The language used in the warrant was flawed, in that it did not reference the exhibit containing the affidavit and list of items to be seized. However, a reasonable officer could have easily concluded that the warrant was valid since the magistrate judge signed not only the warrant, but also the affidavit, to which the list of items to be seized was attached. The magistrate judge’s signature on the affidavit reduced the concern that he did not agree to the scope of the search as defined in it. This protected the defendant by preventing the officers from conducting a general search. The mistake was not that the documentation was insufficient to support issuance of the warrant, but that the attachment and affidavit were not properly incorporated into the warrant by reference.

The court further held that the information relied upon by the officers to establish probable cause was not stale. The court found, in cases involving child pornography, it was reasonable for the magistrate to conclude that the pornographic images were still on the defendant’s computer eighteen months after he transferred them.

You gotta love the Good-Faith Exception.