Private search doctrine suppresses pornographic evidence obtained by police from defendant’s laptop
Occasionally, one must ask him or herself how far their privacy is protected in a court of law. One may take for granted that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” would be enough to protect a person’s privacy and to prevent anybody, including law enforcement officials, from breaching this law. Unfortunately, many police officers and private citizens are uneducated in Constitutional law and, therefore, could be unaware when they are not in compliance with the amendment. That is why it is important to hire sex offender attorneys in Berrien County who are trained to defend you in cases involving alleged criminal sexual conduct and assure that you receive the strongest defense possible.
Despite “evidence” that, to an untrained eye, might lead a person to believe they had no hope of a fair trial, a qualified sex offender attorney may be able to uncover details that a less experienced attorney may not consider. For example, in a recent case in Ohio, United States v. Lichtenberger, a defendant was reported to law enforcement for not registering as a sex offender. When the police arrived, it also transpired that the defendant had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Subsequently, the defendant was arrested and taken to jail. While in jail, the subject’s girlfriend began exploring the defendant’s laptop and discovered files of child pornography. She then notified law enforcement again.
She informed the officer that she had to hack into the defendant’s laptop because it was password protected, and then proceeded to click on various random folders to display the pornography. The officer then instructed the girlfriend to power the computer down, and received permission for a search warrant over the phone from his commanding officer. The policeman then left with the laptop and other items belonging to the defendant, including a flash drive and some marijuana.
The pornographic pictures were subsequently used as evidence against the defendant in court where he was tried on three counts of receipt, possession, and distribution of child pornography. Although it appeared that this would be an open and shut case where the defendant was caught red-handed, there were a number of problems with the case as presented. Namely, the fact that the search warrant did not properly specify what law enforcement was seeking to find within the defendant’s electronic device prevented the case against him from being successful. There was a time when a search warrant for an item within a physical space, such as a house or an office, would be sufficient, but it is different for electronic devices, such as laptop computers and cell phones. Because there are many more items that can be discovered within an electronic device’s circuitry than a search warrant may intend to find, it is necessary for a warrant to state exactly what the search is for.
In this case, since protocol was not followed adequately, the case was eventually dismissed. This case demonstrates why it is critical to have an experienced a sex offender attorney at your side before you step into a courtroom in Berrien County.
For over 45 years, the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC has been fighting prosecutors and helping clients across the greater Southwest Michigan. To schedule an appointment with one of our highly experienced and reputable sex offender attorneys please contact us at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com.