Kiddie Porn Admission in FBI Job Interview Was Fair Game
CHICAGO (CN) - The FBI did not need to read a job applicant his rights when that man admitted to possession of child pornography in an interview, the 7th Circuit ruled.
"Federal investigative agents will tell you that some cases are hard to solve," the 16-page decision states. "Some cases require years of effort - chasing down false leads and reigning in flighty witnesses. Others require painstaking scientific analysis, or weeks of poring over financial records for a hidden clue. And some cases are never solved at all. ... This is not one of those cases."
Dominick Pelletier arrived at FBI offices on Aug. 29, 2008, for a job interview. The FBI requires applicants to take a polygraph examination, and Pelletier signed a "Consent to Interview with Polygraph," that stated: "I understand that I am not in custody, that my participation in the polygraph examination is voluntary, and that I may leave at any time."
Pelletier failed the polygraph interview. He explained to the interviewing agent that he had trouble with some of the questions because of files on his home computer which included child pornography. Pelletier claimed that the images had been part of a research project that he conducted as a graduate student.
The interviewer summoned Agent Brent Dempsey of the FBI's Cyber Squad into the room. He did not read Pelletier his rights as required by Miranda v. Arizona, and explained that Pelletier could leave at any time.
Pelletier continued to answer questions about the images, but initially refused to provide consent for agents to search his computer. During the interview, Dempsey instructed other FBI agents to go to Pelletier's home and "freeze" the premises in anticipation of a search warrant.
Pelletier eventually consented to the search, which uncovered more than 600 pornographic images of children.
Despite the investigation, "it seems that Pelletier left the interview room believing he was still in the running for an FBI job," the 7th Circuit said. "Pelletier told the agents that his research on child pornography would help him to track down criminals, and, just before leaving to go home, Pelletier asked if 'this was going to slow down the application process.'"
Instead of getting the job, Pelletier faced a charge for possession of child pornography. When U.S. District Judge Frederick Kapala declined motions to suppress Pelletier's statements from the interview, or the images recovered from his computer, Pelletier pleaded guilty.
On appeal, he argued that agents were required to read his Miranda rights, and that they had coerced his consent to the computer search. The 7th Circuit rejected both arguments.
Miranda was unnecessary because a reasonable person in Pelletier's position would have recognized that he was not under arrest, according to the ruling
"Job interviews are stressful, of course, but there is nothing inherently coercive about them," Judge Michael Kanne wrote for a three-member panel. "The fact that Pelletier wanted a job at the FBI office does not mean he was being held there against his will."
Though the interview lasted over five hours and Agent Dempsey wore a badge and gun, "a reasonable applicant for an FBI job would expect to go through what Pelletier experienced: lengthy interviews in an FBI office, encounters with armed FBI agents, and security measures limiting free movement through the building," the decision states.
Moreover, because Pelletier told agents that he had child pornography on his computer, the FBI would have inevitably gotten a search warrant and uncovered the images. The fact that Pelletier was not arrested the day of the interview does not suggest that the agency would not have gotten a warrant.
"Here, the FBI agents easily could have decided that immediately arresting Pelletier was unnecessary because Pelletier still thought he was a job candidate and therefore was unlikely to flee," Kanne wrote. "We think that act of discretion demonstrated sound judgment, not a weak case."