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7th Circuit finds 5-year-old information not ‘stale’

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declined a defendant’s request to find the information used to execute a search warrant of his computer for child pornography stale because more time had passed in his case as compared to previous cases ruled on by the Circuit Court.

James Carroll argued the District Court erred in denying his motion to suppress because the information provided in the affidavit was stale and did not establish probable cause to search his home. He also claimed the court erred in concluding that even if the search was not supported by probable cause, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies.

A 13-year-old girl reported to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Detective Kurt Spivey that Carroll, who was a professional photographer, had molested her when she was 8 years old. Based on her testimony, and Spivey’s experience conducting child pornography and exploitation investigations, the Marion Superior Court granted a search warrant of Carroll’s residence. Spivey had explained that those who have child pornography often keep the images for years and they can be recovered even if the person believes the information has been deleted.

District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson denied Carroll’s motion to suppress the evidence found after a search of his home. He pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography and six counts of child exploitation, but reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

The federal appeals court in United States of America v. James V. Carroll, 13-2600, had to decide whether the victim’s information about what happened five years earlier was too stale to create a fair probability that evidence of child pornography or sexual exploitation of a child would be found on a computer or other storage devices within Carroll’s residence at the time the search warrant was issued.

“In recognition of the well-established hoarding habits of collectors of child pornography, this Court’s holding in Prideaux-Wentz (543 F.3d 954, 958 (7th Cir. 2008)) and cases from other circuits make clear that under certain circumstances years can pass between information about child pornography offenses and applications for search warrants without rendering the information stale,” wrote Judge Frederick J. Kapla of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, who was sitting by designation.

There isn’t a bright-line time limit, and the 7th Circuit held it’s not obligated to deem the information at issue in this case stale just because it is older than the information at issue in any previous case; each case is unique, Kapla wrote. The information in Prideaux-Wentz was at least four years old.

The judges concluded that the information in Spivey’s affidavit was sufficient to establish a fair probability that the computer or other digital storage devices within Carroll’s residence would contain evidence of child pornography or sexual exploitation of a child, despite that the photographs were taken approximately five years earlier.

“Therefore, we hold that there is a substantial basis in the record to support the decision to issue the search warrant for Carroll’s residence. As a result, we need not reach the issue of good-faith reliance on the search warrant,” Kapla wrote.  
 

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