Third Circuit Upholds Warrant in Child Pornography Case
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently found that a search warrant in a child pornography case was sufficient, even if not based on a detailed description of the computer hard drive being searched. In US v. Miknevich, 2011 US App. LEXIS 3824 (3d Cir. March 1, 2011), the Court considered whether the affidavit providing the basis for a search warrant in a child pornography case need to include copies of the items being searched for or a detailed description of these items.
Defendant Stephen Miknevich was charged with possession of child pornography in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. At trial, he moved to exclude from evidence the images of child pornography found by police on his home computer by challenging the validity of the search warrant used by the police. The District Judge denied his motion, and Miknevich pled guilty, understanding that he could still challenge the legitimacy of the warrant before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
When reviewing the validity of a search warrant, an appellate court (such as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals) must determine whether the judge issuing the warrant had “probable cause” to believe that the defendant was guilty of a crime. A judge issuing a warrant may find “probable cause” when, viewing the totality of the circumstances, “there is fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983). If a substantial basis exists to support the judge’s finding of probable cause, the appellate court must uphold the finding even if a different judge “might have found the affidavit insufficient to support a warrant.” US v. Conley, 4 F.3d 1200, 1205 (3d Cir. 1993).
Here, Miknevich argued that the warrant was invalid because the police affidavit that the issuing judge relied on did not include either a copy of the movie that the police expected to find on his computer, or a description of the movie’s content. Still, the Third Circuit found that the warrant was adequate, because it did contain the file name for the movie, which referred to explicit sexual acts being conducted by six and seven year old children. Although the Court recognized that file names do not always accurately describe file contents, they also noted that for a warrant, a judge need not be certain that the defendant was guilty of a crime, only that there was a substantial chance that he was. Based upon this standard, the Court held that the file name was enough, and that the warrant was valid.
All persons charged with crimes are entitled to the protections afforded by the United States Constitution. An experienced criminal defense attorney helps to ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected before, during and after a trial. If you have been charged with or convicted of a criminal offense, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney immediately. For a confidential consultation, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff at (215) 563-9800 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.