Friday, October 20, 2006

Good Faith Exception Saves Search Warrant for Child Pornography

United States v. Flanders, No. 05-10785 (5th Cir. Oct. 20, 2006) (Smith, Garza, Clement)

(UPDATE: As of around 5:30 p.m. on Friday, October 20th, this opinion is no longer listed on the Fifth Circuit's opinion page and the link above takes you to a dead page.)

(10/23 UPDATE: It's back up now.)

Okay, techinically the good faith exception didn't "save" the warrant at issue here because, given the cart-before-the-horse approach to the issue, the court never actually decided whether the warrant needed saving in the first place. In any event, the court held that the good faith exception applied here, and affirmed the district court's denial of Flanders' motion to suppress child pornography found on his home computer.

The search warrant was for files, photos, etc. containing images of minors engaging in sexual conduct. The affidavit submitted with the warrant application alleged that

  1. ICE agents found an Internet chat log in which Flanders described sex acts he performed with his two-year-old daughter;
  2. the daughter described those acts to a "forensic interviewer;"
  3. Flanders' wife told investigators that he visits adult pornography sites on the Internet, and that he had once taken a picture of his daughter standing naked on a bed after his wife had taken her out of the shower; and
  4. the affiant believed, based on training and experience, that those who sexually abuse children also collect and exchange child pornography with others.
Flanders argued that "the mere fact that he allegedly had sexually abused his young daughter does not create probable cause that he possessed child pornography[,]" and that "there was not probable cause that child pornography would be located in his home."

The court held that the officers' reliance on the warrant was objectively reasonable, thus triggering the good-faith exception to the warrant requirement. As to Flanders' first argument, the court concluded that the inference of child pornography possession from alleged acts of sexual abuse was unnecessary to a finding of probable cause. Instead, "the act of digitally photographing a naked child whom the defendant had allegedly previously sexually exploited provides direct support for the search for child pornography." As to Flanders' second argument, the court decided that Flanders' wife's allegations about his Internet activity and the photographing of his daughter, coupled with the unique convenience of a home as a place in which to hide the fruits of criminal activity, were enough to support good-faith reliance on a judge's PC determination that child pornography would be found on Flanders' home computer.


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