Tuesday, June 29, 2021

70,000 images of child pornography will not be suppressed.

The government prevailed last week in the Third Circuit on an interlocutory appeal of a suppression grant.

In United States v. Caesar, No. 19-3961, 2021 WL 2559471 (3d Cir. June 23, 2021), the police searched the defendant’s home pursuant to a search warrant and recovered child pornography.

Litigating a motion to suppress, the defendant challenged the search warrant affidavit, which alleged not child pornography crimes, but sexual abuse of children—different offenses that are not automatically linked.  See Virgin Islands v. John, 654 F.3d 412 (3d Cir. 2011); United States v. Zimmerman, 277 F.3d 426 (3d Cir. 2002).

The Third Circuit rejected the defense argument.  Factually distinguishing the defense-favorable precedent, the Court noted three averments in the affidavit that strengthened the case to search the home for child pornography: (1) that the defendant committed prolonged child sexual abuse in his home; (2) that he used a computer to solicit images of partially-clothed children; and (3) that the experienced affiant knew of a link between child pornography crimes and child sexual abuse.

On these facts, it was “a close question” whether there was probable cause to search the home for child pornography.  The Third Circuit declined to reach the issue.  Instead, it reversed the grant of suppression under the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule.

Bottom line: Probable cause or not, the officers were not entirely unreasonable in relying on the search warrant.

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