Third Circuit Blog
SEARCH WARRANT VALID DESPITE FACTUAL INACCURACIES IN CHILD PORNOGRAPHY CASE. In USA v. Shields, 458 F.3d 269 (No.05-3662, Aug.16, 2006), the Third Circuit upheld defendant's conviction for possessing child pornography, finding that the affidavit that formed the basis of a search warrant, when excised of its known false statements, still supported probable cause. Shields' prosecution resulted from an undercover FBI investigation of two alleged child pornography websites. Shields was a member of both e-groups, subscribing with an email address of LittleLolitaLove@aol.com. The FBI created a template for a search warrant affidavit for use by FBI offices nationwide which contained serious factual inaccuracies, including a statement that, just by joining either of the e-groups, all members automatically received emails containing images of child pornography as they were posted on the respective sites. In reality, not all members automatically received all emails, but rather had to sign up for that option.
The search warrant executed against Shields contained these false statements. It also contained statements specific to Shields, verifying that the email address was his, that he was a member of both e-groups, and the dates of his membership. As a result of the search, the FBI seized Shields' computer, containing hundreds of images of child pornography, and binders and notebooks of similar images. Shields waived his Miranda rights and confessed to viewing and possessing child pornography.
Shields sought to suppress the physical and statement evidence for lack of probable cause, because of the false allegations in the affidavit. The Court found that despite the serious and reckless misrepresentations of material fact, the warrant supported probable cause without the tainted statements and was sufficient under the standard set forth in Illinois v. Gates, 462, U.S. 213 (1983).