It is well-established that law enforcement officials must abide by a strict set of rules with regard to how they conduct investigations and initiate stops and execute searches and seizures.
When officials fail to follow these standards – as they often do – there is a strong likelihood that Birmingham sex crimes defense attorneys will be successful in suppressing the evidence gathered as a result.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed and there is a chance that prosecutors in these situations may attempt to argue the doctrine of inevitable discovery, as they did in U.S. v. Christy reviewed recently by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
The doctrine of inevitable discovery holds that even if evidence of a defendant’s guilt was procured in such a way that it would otherwise by inadmissible under the exclusionary rule, it may be admitted anyway if prosecutors can show that, based on a preponderance of the evidence, a normal investigation would likely have led to discovery.
The exception isn’t limitless, and case law in the past 10 years has whittled it down quite a bit. The case of United States v. Johnson, for example, held that evidence uncovered in impermissible searches by third parties wouldn’t be allowed to fall under the inevitable discovery doctrine.
But this hasn’t stopped prosecutors from using it when police failed to follow the law. The Christy case is a good example.
According to court records, the adult male defendant appealed his federal conviction on sex crimes charges related to his online and in-person sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl. Specifically, he appealed the district court order that granted the government’s motion to reconsider – while denying his motion suppress – evidence obtained during a warrantless search of his home. While the defendant alleged police had illegally obtained evidence against him (and there was little dispute about this), prosecutors were able to have the evidence admitted under the inevitable discovery doctrine.
What happened was this:
The defendant, from Nevada, reportedly met the teen, from California, virtually in an online adult dating website. The two exchanged numerous sexually-explicit e-mails and photographs. Authorities say he was told of the girl’s age early on.
The girl told him she was being abused by her father, and the defendant subsequently made arrangements to pick her up from her home and take her to his. And this he did.
A short time later, the girl’s parents reported her missing. Federal investigators launched a probe and uncovered through telephone records evidence that would indicate the defendant was involved in her disappearance.
Authorities then contacted the local sheriff’s office at the home of the suspect to see about conducting a welfare check. The deputies did not have a warrant to search the property at this point.
One of the local deputies walked to the rear of the defendant’s home and, through an open blind, saw the girl in a bra and underwear, holding a rope and smiling. Based on this information, the deputy sought permission from a superior to enter the home. The sergeant granted this request and asked for backup.
As he waited, the deputy noted camera flashes and saw the girl was now topless and bound by the rope.
Backup arrived and the deputies made entry into the home. In a “protective sweep,” the officers found the girl and pornographic materials.
The defendant was arrested and, after waiving his Miranda rights, spoke to officers at length about his relationship with the girl.
Officers later obtained search warrants for the defendant’s home, vehicle, computer and person, where they found evidence that incriminated the defendant.
The defendant sought to suppress all of this evidence, saying it all stemmed from an illegal search.
There was no question the officers didn’t have a warrant. The district court found that the deputies violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when they entered his home. On these grounds, the court initially granted the motion to suppress. However, the court also later granted prosecutors’ motion to reconsider after hearing the government’s argument that even though the search was illegal, it didn’t stem from officer misconduct and the officers would have almost certainly obtained a warrant and found it anyway.
The defendant was convicted and sentenced to 9 years in prison.
The ruling on inevitable discovery – and his conviction – were upheld by the appellate court.