Friday, January 11, 2019

Suppression of evidence is not a remedy for Magistrate Judge errors



In late 2014, The United States briefly got into the child pornography business.  The FBI seized a website on the "dark web" known as Playpen, and, for several weeks, continued to run the website in order to capture users.  Unable to get the information it needed to catch the website's users, the FBI obtained a warrant in the Eastern District of Virginia which allowed the FBI to use software (called NIT) to identify users.  The problem with this is that the warrant captured information well outside the Eastern District of Virginia.

Fast forward to September of 2015 - the use of the NIT software identified defendant Andrew Mooreheard (situated in the Western District of Tennessee) as a user.  Moorehead was eventually charged with possession and receipt of child pornography.  Moorehead filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained through the NIT search, claiming that because the magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia was outside of their authority to capture conduct in the Western District of Tennessee, the warrant was void.

The Sixth Circuit disagreed. [case here]  The Court found that, although the magistrate judge was clearly outside their jurisdiction, suppression was not warranted under the good faith exception.  First, because Rule 41 was later amended to allow for warrants such as this, there can be no future deterrent factor by suppression of the evidence.  Second, officers clearly could have, in good faith, relied on the warrant.  As such, suppression was not applicable to the evidence illegally seized.

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