After Leland Beasley was arrested, he directed an employee of his business to take several items from his store and move them to his mother’s home. His mother subsequently allowed law enforcement officers to enter her home and take the materials. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that this was not a violation of Beasley’s constitutional rights and Beasley’s mother had authority to produce the materials to the officers.
Leland Beasley was the proprietor of Gamestation Sector 19, a video game store and arcade in St. Louis, Missouri. The store’s customers were primarily minors. Beasley occasionally hosted “lock-ins” at the store, wherein children stayed overnight to play video games and slept in chairs or on the floor. Beasley also traveled out of state with at least two minors, one of those ostensibly for the purpose of promoting and advertising video game playing-related services.
On January 5, 2009, Lieutenant Gary Guinn of the St. Louis County Police Department (“SLPD”) received a tip that Beasley had sexually abused a child. After a preliminary investigation, Lieutenant Guinn and Detective Anthony Cavaletti went to Gamestation to interview Beasley. On arrival at the store, the officers explained that they had a private matter to discuss with Beasley. Beasley then asked his customers to leave and they did so.
The officers noticed that Beasley seemed visibly nervous and asked if he had a private computer in the store. Beasley said that he did, and signed a consent form allowing officers to search the computer. A search was performed, but no contraband was found.
The officers then asked Beasley if he would come to the police department and answer questions. Beasley consented. Once there, Beasley orally waived his Miranda rights and signed a form waiving his right to an attorney and his right to remain silent. Over the next two hours, Beasley admitted that he had previously been arrested for child abuse on two occasions, though he had never been convicted. He admitted that he had touched an underage boy’s genitals, but insisted that it had been accidental. Beasley also stated that he had a “problem” and that he needed “help,” but he declined to describe the nature of his problem. The officers concluded the interview by arresting Beasley.
After his arrest, Beasley contacted an employee of his store to ask that certain personal items be taken to the home of his mother, Leslie Moss. These items included a duffel bag containing some of Beasley’s laundry, a black camera bag containing a DVD recorder, a black lock-box, a digital camera, and a digital video recorder. The law enforcement officers were apparently initially unaware of this conveyance.
On January 13, 2009, Lieutenant Guinn met with Mary Day, Beasley’s ex-wife. Day said that in 2007, she discovered compact discs in Beasley’s vehicle which she suspected contained child pornography and produced those CDs to Lieutenant Guinn. The CDs contained child pornography, including photos of a child who police had previously interviewed as a potential victim of Beasley’s, and the CDs also included photos taken at Gamestation.
On January 16, 2009, after learning that Beasley had directed an employee to move items to Moss’s home, Lieutenant Guinn met with Moss at her place of employment to discuss the items she had received. Moss took Lieutenant Guinn to her home where she showed him the items she had received and consented to Lieutenant Guinn taking possession of the items.
On January 19, Detective Cavaletti and Sergeant Matthew Brillos took Beasley, who was still in police custody, to an interrogation room where the items Moss provided to Lieutenant Guinn were laid out on a table. The officers asked for permission to search the items; Beasley replied by questioning whether the black box was his but then granted permission to search. The officers subsequently Mirandized Beasley, who then requested the assistance of an attorney. The officers then ceased the interrogation, and led Beasley back to his cell. The officers then searched the items and discovered what they alleged was child pornography of minor boys, some of which also featured Beasley performing or attempting to perform sexual activities with the minors.
At trial before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Beasley moved to suppress the evidence against him on several grounds, but his suppression motion was denied. Beasley was convicted by a jury on eight (8) counts of manufacturing child pornography, two (2) counts of attempted production of child pornography, and two (2) counts of possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to 3,480 months imprisonment.
On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Beasley maintained that his suppression motion should have been granted because “(1) Moss had no actual or apparent authority to consent to Lieutenant Guinn’s seizure of the items; (2) the items were not properly seized under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement; (3) Beasley’s consent to the search of the seized items was involuntary; and (4) Beasley’s consent to the search of the items was an implied admission of ownership obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment and Miranda.”
The court of appeals rejected this reasoning, addressing each point in order.
First, the court of appeals found that Moss had authority to consent to Lieutenant Guinn’s seizure of the items. Relying on precedent from United States v. Clutter, 674 F.3d 980 (8th Cir. 2012), the court of appeals determined Moss had authority to consent and Lieutenant Guinn had authority to seize because: (1) the search did not meaningfully interfere with Beasley’s possessory interests since he was currently in custody; (2) “the nature of Beasley’s property, his apparent efforts to conceal the property, and the other evidence of Beasley’s production and possession of child pornography combined to give Lieutenant Guinn probable cause to suspect the items contained evidence of child abuse and child pornography”; and (3) “Lieutenant Guinn had a legitimate interest in preserving the evidence, and Moss had a legitimate reason to be rid of the suspect property.” The confluence of the factors combined to provide Lieutenant Guinn authority to seize the property with Moss’s consent.
Second, the seizure was lawful under the plain-view doctrine. As established in prior cases, “[u]nder the plain-view exception, officers may seize an object without a warrant if they are lawfully in a position from which they view the object, the incriminating character of the object is immediately apparent, and the officers have a lawful right of access to the object.” United States v. Muhammad, 604 F.3d 1022, 1027 (8th Cir. 2010). Because of the nature of the suspected crimes (production of child pornography), the incriminating nature of the items seized (including video production equipment and a locked box) was immediately apparent. Furthermore, it was uncontested that the items had been in plain view when Moss led Lieutenant Guinn to them, and nothing in the record suggested that Lieutenant Guinn was illegally present in Moss’s home. Thus, the evidence had been properly seized under the plain view-doctrine.
Third, Beasley’s consent to search the items had been given in a completely voluntary fashion. Although the court of appeals noted that it was proper to consider whether or not a Miranda warning had been given before requesting consent to search in an analysis as to the voluntary nature of the consent, there was no absolute requirement to provide a Miranda warning before requesting consent to search in the fashion that the officers did. Since there was no evidence of any threats, promises, or any deception by police, it was apparent that the consent to search was voluntary.
Fourth, Bealsey argued his consent to search amounted to confession that the materials were his property, and that this confession had been solicited without a Miranda warning. The court of appeals found this unpersuasive, noting that it is a settled matter of law that consent to search cannot be considered an incriminating statement under Cody v. Solem, 755 F.2d 1323, 1330 (8th Cir. 1985). However, even if there had been a confession subsequent to a failure to provide a Miranda warning, the court of appeals reasoned that there was no obligation to suppress a completely voluntary statements pursuant to United States v. Patane, 542 U.S. 630, 633-34 (2004).
Because denial of the suppression motion had been proper, Beasley’s conviction and sentence were upheld.
You can read the full case, United States v. Beasley, here.