Friday, April 5, 2013

Sixth Circuit Says Girlfriend’s Spotty Information Reliable Enough To Support Search Warrant

The Sixth Circuit recently released a ruling in a case, U.S. v. Charles Arthur Kinison, involved a man, Mr. Kinison, who began to affiliate with a group of pedophiles in Georgia that sought to adopt children for the sole purpose of molesting them. Curiously, Kinison had a girlfriend at the time and decided to share his interest in the group with the woman. Going even further, Kinison texted back and forth with his girlfriend, who admitted participated in the exchange, explaining his interest in the plan and his love of child pornography. Kinison detailed his favorite online sites and described some of the child pornography he had viewed on the Internet.

Disturbed by Kinison’s behavior, the girlfriend went to police who then downloaded thousands of pages of text messages between the two from the girlfriend’s cell phone. She cooperated with the ongoing police investigation, agreeing to meet with them on three different occasions. The police asked her where Kinison had been viewing the child pornography and she told them it was in his house. However, there was no real evidence obtained by the police to prove that the girlfriend knew this as a fact and was not simply guessing.

Based on the information from the girlfriend and the text messages the police had downloaded, they were able to get a warrant to search the man’s home. When the police arrived, Kinison had just pulled into the driveway with a cell phone clearly out in the center console of his vehicle. The police were able to secure another warrant for the car, based on the phone being in plain view, and ultimately found child pornography on Kinison’s home computer.

Kinison moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search, arguing that the warrant failed to establish probable cause to search his home and car based on the girlfriend’s incomplete knowledge of where the pornography was being viewed. The district court granted Kinison’s motion to suppress.

The case eventually made its way to the Sixth Circuit which found that the girlfriend could be relied on as a police informant because she was not anonymous and the text messages confirmed there was a personal relationship between her and Kinison that gave her some degree of knowledge on the subject. Moreover, the Sixth Circuit said her statements were leant credibility because she was putting herself at risk of criminal prosecution for having engaged in similar conversations with Kinison about kidnapping or adopting a young child for the purpose of molestation.

The Court further found that though the girlfriend’s statement about the location of the pornography may have been a guess, it was an educated guess. The Court said that it’s widely assumed when someone is engaged in such private behavior it would likely occur in in the privacy of his or her own home. Furthermore, the Court found that the police acted in good faith when seeking their warrant which should allow the search even if it was based on a less than complete information.

The Sixth Circuit thus reversed the lower court’s decision to grant Kinison’s motion to suppress and remanded the case for reconsideration.

To read the full opinion, click

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