Monday, February 14, 2011

Ohio Court Upholds Search of Computer Files for Evidence of Rape and Child Pornography

An Ohio Court has upheld the search of a computer for evidence of a rape and child pornography.  The case is State v. McCrory.
In this case, the police were contacted by a woman who claimed that she was the victim of a sexual assault.  The victim stated that she had gone to the defendant’s residence “for a job interview in response to an advertisement that appellant posted on for a topless maid.”  During the interview – surprise! – the defendant sexually assaulted her. 
The police, after some additional investigation, obtained a search warrant for the defendant’s computers.  During a forensic review of the machines, the police discovered child pornography.  They then sought an additional warrant to conduct further electronic searches. 
The court initially rejected a claim that the information from the victim was not sufficiently reliable to support a search warrant.  The court said, “The complainant in this case was not a confidential government informant or anonymous tipster providing hearsay information to police, but a direct, victim-eyewitness reporting her personal, first-hand knowledge of an identified assailant's sexual assault committed face-to-face upon her person.”
An interesting computer related claim was also raised by the defendant.  He argued, in part, that the warrant “impermissibly authorized the wholesale seizure and subsequent off-site search of all his electronic media.”   In particular, the defendant appeared to argue that the warrant should have contained a limitation of the type of electronic data searched, both in terms of subject matter and time.  The court found that the actions of the police in this case met the legal standard, mostly because when evidence beyond the original search for evidence of the sexual assault was discovered, they sought an additional warrant.  Nonetheless, the defendant suggested that “a search protocol detailing how the files should be searched and irrelevant information segregated should have been used."  However, a large number of cases suggest that this is not necessary because by providing a protocol, the government would provide defendants with the ability to easily conceal evidence by changing file names, etc . . .  The court also held that once the police could legally access the computer, they were permitted to open any image files to be sure that images did not relate to his victim. 

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