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Search Warrant for Computer Upheld

A search warrant is formal judicial authorization for a search and/or seizure of property which may contain evidence of a crime. It requires a probable cause to suspect the property may contain evidence of a crime. It requires a 'nexus' between the suspected criminal activity and the property to be searched and/or seized. The evidence supporting the basis for the warrant is usually provided by affidavit. In a subsequent legal challenge to the issuance or validity of the warrant, a court must determine whether the affidavit contains sufficient information upon which to authorize the search in question. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. McCoy, E2013-02138-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 5-27-2014), the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a search warrant for a computer based on suspected criminal online communication.

In the McCoy case, the Defendant had answered an ad on Craigslist which purported to be from an underage male interested in meeting men, but was actually under the control of a Blount County Internet crime investigative unit. The Defendant communicated with an undercover police officer who was posing as the underage male, with some of the communication being by email from the Defendant's computer. The Defendant emailed a photo of himself and suggested he had 'pics' for trading as well. The nature of the communication suggested sexual interest. When the Defendant arranged to meet in person with the individual he believed to be an underage male, he was arrested for solicitation of sexual exploitation of a minor. Based on the information collected from the online communication, a search warrant was obtained for the Defendant's computer. A forensic search of the computer revealed child pornography.

The Defendant was then also charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, based upon over one hundred images found on his computer. He eventually pled guilty, but reserved the right to appeal the trial court's ruling upholding the validity of the search warrant. The Defendant argued there was not a sufficient nexus between the communications with the undercover officer and the Defendant's computer in his home. The trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that as some of the suspected criminal communication occurred online, with the Defendant sending emails from his computer, there was sufficient cause to believe that computer may contain evidence of the crime of solicitation of sexual exploitation of a minor. Having cause to search the computer in investigation of that crime, the State's discovery of the evidence of an additional crime of sexual exploitation was lawful and that evidence admissible.

For information on questions relating to search warrants, contact Hindman & Associates.

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