Fifth Circuit: Reasonable to Believe Digital Video Recoverable Long After Production
A warrant for digital video was not based on stale information because a reasonable officer may believe that digital video would be recoverable months after its production, the Fifth Circuit recently held.
Daniel Aleman was suspected of recording voyeuristic videos in violation of Texas law. Law enforcement obtained a warrant for devices capable of storing electronic data and the materials necessary to access and to review that data. Execution of that warrant and a search of the seized electronic devices led to two later-obtained warrants which uncovered Aleman’s possession of images of child pornography. Aleman moved, and lost, a motion to suppress that evidence.
He was subsequently convicted in federal district court of two counts of sexual exploitation of a child and sentenced to the statutory maximum of 720 months imprisonment and a lifetime term of supervised release. Aleman then appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress the evidence that officers obtained on his digital devices that was used to convict him, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
On appeal, Aleman argued that the affidavit filed in support of the initial search warrant contained stale information and, therefore, lacked indicia of probable cause. Aleman also argued that the search warrant did not particularly authorize a forensic search of seized digital devices, and that his sentence was improper. The Fifth Circuit disagreed with Aleman on all points.
First, the appeals court reasoned that the initial search warrant was not based on stale information. As Aleman was suspected to have committed an offense involving the recording of voyeuristic videos, and the warrant application identified that the evidence of that offense, i.e. the videos, was suspected to be on the recording device or on the electronic media to which the videos were downloaded. The court then held, because digital images can be stored indefinitely, a reasonable officer could believe that the videos recorded by Aleman would be recoverable less than two months after their production.
Addressing Aleman’s particularity argument, the court held that given the crime at issue and the type of evidence needed to prove that crime, a reasonable officer could believe that examining the contents of Aleman’s devices to be within the scope of the search warrant. Additionally, the warrant’s description of the sought devices, “devices capable of storing electronic data and materials necessary to access and to view that data,” supported that the objective of the warrant was to review the electronic media. For these and other reasons, the court held the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied, requiring no further analysis of the matter.
Because it held the good-faith exception applied to the initial search warrant, the court summarily dispensed with Aleman’s contention that the two subsequent warrants which uncovered the images of child pornography were invalid.
The Fifth Circuit lastly concluded that Aleman failed to show his sentence was unreasonable, and it affirmed both Aleman’s conviction and sentence.
Read the full case: U.S. v. Aleman
This case law update was written by James P. Heelan, associate attorney, Shaw Bransford & Roth, P.C.
For thirty years, Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. has provided superior representation on a wide range of federal employment law issues, from representing federal employees nationwide in administrative investigations, disciplinary and performance actions, and Bivens lawsuits, to handling security clearance adjudications and employment discrimination cases.
Posted in Case Law Update
Tags: suppressing evidence, search warrant, pornography