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COA cites 'good faith' exception for child pornography search warrant

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence, holding that even though a search warrant was invalid, the evidence it produced is admissible due to a “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule.

On May 1, 2009, Bryan Johnson took his computer to Computer Bay, a repair shop in Schererville. An employee there found a folder on Johnson’s computer titled: “Had sex with a 12 year old_file.” Based on his co-workers’ recommendations, the employee reported Johnson to the Schererville Police Department.

A police officer visited the store and checked some of the folders on the computer. He found no images of child pornography, but was instructed to bring the hard drive to the police station to be held as evidence. Subsequently, another officer – Detective Patrick Rosado – took over the investigation.

Rosado filled out search warrant and search warrant affidavit forms and submitted them to the Schererville Town Court on May 19, 2009, to be signed by Judge Kenneth Anderson. After Rosado received the search warrant and affidavit back from Judge Anderson, he picked up the computer tower, which was still at Computer Bay. Detective Alva Whited, a forensic examiner with the Indiana State Police, searched the computer and found images of child pornography within the folder that initially caused the Computer Bay employee to call police. Whited found 173 folders, each containing approximately 1,000 photos. Many of the photos were animated or digital, but Whited found at least two live photos involving young children and adults engaging in sexual acts.

In the case of Bryan Johnson v. State of Indiana, No. 45A05-1012-CR-816, Johnson argued that the images found on his computer should have been suppressed because of an improperly filed search warrant. When Rosado submitted his affidavit and search warrant to the Schererville Town Court, he did not see Judge Anderson. Instead, he submitted the forms to one of Judge Anderson’s office employees and received them back shortly thereafter. The appeals court stated that Rosado was not familiar with the policies of the Schererville Town Court and assumed that the court employee had taken care of everything necessary to properly file a search warrant. However, when he received the forms back, neither form had a file mark, and the Schererville Court later could not find either form in its record, which indicates the search warrant was never filed.

The appeals court referred to the Indiana Supreme Court decision in Callender v. State, 193 Ind. 91, 138 N.E. 817, 818 (1923), which states that if property is secured by a search and seizure under the pretext of a search warrant, and the warrant is held invalid for any reason, then the property seized may not be used as evidence against a defendant. Generally, the exclusionary rule requires that a search conducted pursuant to an invalid search warrant results in the suppression of any items seized. Hoop v. State, 909 N.E.2d 463, 470 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), trans. denied.

However, in Johnson, the state argued that the images on Johnson’s computer were admissible under the “good faith exception” to the exclusionary rule – Indiana Code 35-37-4-5 – which allows evidence to be admitted if an officer sought the warrant under probable cause and believed the search warrant to be valid. The appeals court agreed, affirming the trial court’s denial of Johnson’s motion to suppress.
 

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