Lower court needs to address constitutional issues, hold hearing in sex crimes case, 7th Circuit rules

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A lower court will need to address constitutional concerns and look at how evidence was obtained in a case involving sexual exploitation of children, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday, remanding the case for an evidentiary hearing.

The case involves defendant-appellant Russell Taylor, who pleaded guilty to multiple counts relating to child pornography and was sentenced to 27 years  in prison.

In the autumn of 2014, Indiana law enforcement began investigating Taylor for suspected child pornography and bestiality crimes. The primary source of incriminating information against him was “Jane Doe,” a woman with whom Taylor and his wife were intimately involved, according to the appellate court.

At relevant times, Doe was also intimately involved with two members of law enforcement, one active and one retired, who were involved in the investigation.

In April 2015, law enforcement presented a warrant application to a state-court judge. The affidavit sought to establish probable cause to search Taylor’s residence for evidence of both child pornography and bestiality, but it did not disclose that two of the law enforcement officers involved in the investigation were or had been potentially competing with Taylor for Doe’s affections.

Based on that affidavit, the judge signed a typed warrant that authorized law enforcement to search Taylor’s residence for evidence of child pornography. The warrant did not mention bestiality, and no evidence of bestiality was actually found in the search.

Facing federal charges, Taylor filed two motions to suppress evidence obtained from the searches of his residence, which the Indiana Southern District Court denied.

After he was convicted and sentenced, Taylor appealed, arguing that the warrant affidavit for his case included material false statements and omissions, and that the warrant’s handwritten alterations rendered it invalid.

The 7th Circuit agreed with Taylor that the affidavit did not support probable cause to search for evidence of child pornography. However, the court also found that the affidavit did support probable cause to search for evidence of crimes of bestiality.

“The unusual problem in this case is that the crime for which the affidavit established probable cause — bestiality — is not the crime for which the typed text of the warrant authorized a search,” Senior Judge David Hamilton wrote. “We simply do not know whether the issuing judge approved law enforcement’s handwritten alterations to the warrant before it was executed.

“An evidentiary hearing is needed to figure out what happened,” Hamilton wrote. “It should then be possible to resolve the questions raised by those handwritten changes and Taylor’s other challenges to the warrant.”

In resolving the uncertainty surrounding the handwritten alterations, the district court will need to consider the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule adopted in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). Further, Hamilton said the district court will need to consider evidence on both the alterations to the warrant and the affidavit’s false statements and deceptive omissions, and will need to address all constitutional concerns raised by Taylor’s motion to suppress.

“Whether the evidence at that hearing can cure the warrant’s constitutional problems is a question for the district court to address after finding the necessary material facts,” Hamilton concluded. “We express no view on that question at this time.”

Judge Ilana Rovner and Judge Amy St. Eve concurred.

The case is United States of America v. Russell Charles Taylor, 22-1925.

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