Evidence Suppressed in Child Porn Case

     BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – Eight hundred child porn photos found on a man’s computer can’t be used as evidence because police searched it without a warrant, a federal judge ruled.
     This case history is recounted in a Memorandum and Opinion on a suppression motion hearing before U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen.
     According to Judge Hanen:
     Homeland Security Investigations agent Guy Baker turned up an IP address in Brownsville that had downloaded child porn from a file sharing network.
     Baker and another federal agent went to the house linked to the IP address without a search warrant on the morning of Aug. 5 this year.
     Hector Blanco answered the door and the agents flashed their badges at him.
     Blanco testified that Baker told him only that “they had reports that some suspicious activity was coming from the house,” and that the agents did not tell him what exactly they were looking for.
     Baker remembers it differently.
     He testified that he told Blanco they “were looking for … illegal images and videos of persons under the age of 18” downloaded to the home’s IP address.
     Blanco let the agents in and they searched his computer and tablet and, finding no criminal evidence, asked if there was anyone else living there.
     Blanco told the agents his roommate Miguel Beckes was upstairs, and brought Beckes down to speak with the officers.
     Baker testified that he told Beckes the same thing he told Blanco: That he was looking for “illegal images and videos of persons under the age of 18.”
     After getting permission from Beckes, Baker testified, he searched Beckes’ laptop and found three or four child porn photos. Baker then asked Beckes if there was somewhere private they could talk. They went upstairs.
     But Beckes, like Blanco, said in court that he did not remember Baker initially saying anything about child porn, and said that Baker searched his laptop without permission.
     Beckes told the court that once upstairs Baker said he was looking for child porn, and that he gave Baker his external hard drives, telling the agent “he believed he ‘wouldn’t get arrested or anything’ if he cooperated.”
     Baker testified that Beckes asked him if he was in trouble and that he replied “it depends on … how much we find once we complete the search.”
     Baker testified that he asked Beckes “if he minded coming to the office to participate in an interview.”
     But the he said-he said issues persisted as Blanco and Beckes testified that Baker did not give Beckes a choice to accompany him to his office.
     At the office, Baker testified, he told Beckes he was not under arrest and gave him a “consent to search” form to sign, saying it gave him permission to search Beckes’ hard drives and laptop.
     Beckes remembered this interaction differently. He testified that he did not recall signing a consent form and that he was “just signing whatever.”
     According to a psychiatric exam requested by Beckes’ attorney, Beckes is competent to stand trial but his mental capacity is below that expected of a 30-year-old man. Blanco testified that he “basically supported” Beckes during their 14 years as roommates, and that Beckes could not take care of himself with his 20-hour a week Pizza Hut dishwasher job.
     After Baker’s search of Beckes’ hard drive found 800 child porn photos, he arrested Beckes and put him in a cell at the Homeland Security office.
     According to the ruling, Beckes yelled at Baker from his cell, “You were going to help me and you said you were not going to arrest me!”
     Federal prosecutors charged Beckes with one count of child porn possession on Aug. 6.
     More than a week later, Baker got a search warrant for Beckes’ electronic devices. The warrant was executed on Aug. 26.
     Beckes’ attorney filed a motion to suppress based on Baker’s warrantless initial search of his laptop and hard drives.
     Judge Hanen granted the motion on Monday, in an 18-page order.
     “According to the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ doctrine, all evidence obtained as the result of an illegal search or seizure conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment must be suppressed,” Hanen wrote.
     Despite Beckes’ alleged confession to possessing child porn, Hanen found that the “taint” from the illegal search weighed in Beckes’ favor.
     Under federal law, a first-time offender convicted of child porn possession faces a minimum of 5 years in prison.

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