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Wife’s Unlawful Seizure of Computer Not Grounds for Suppression

November 4, 2016

In DeGeorgis v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress computer evidence discovered after his estranged wife took his computer containing child pornography to the police.

The defendant was convicted of two counts of sexual exploitation of children for possessing printed and electronic images of child pornography. The defendant moved to suppress evidence seized from his computer and residence as well as a statement he made to police. The trial court denied the motion and the defendant appealed.

The defendant’s estranged wife went to their marital home and retrieved his computer which she knew contained sexually explicit pictures of herself. In searching for those pictures, she found what she believed to be child pornography and took the computer tower to police. After viewing the images, the officer took possession of the computer and obtained search warrants for the computer and the defendant’s residence.

The defendant argued that because his wife was estranged, she did not have consent to search his computer and that the subsequent search warrants were therefore tainted as well. However, the Court of Appeals pointed out that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to searches, even unreasonable ones, conducted by private individuals as long as they are not conducting the search with the participation of a government official.

The Court noted that the officer’s initial viewing of the contents of the computer was at the request of the defendant’s wife and that the officer merely viewed files that the wife had already viewed to ascertain whether they were unlawful. After viewing those images, the officer had probable cause to obtain the search warrants.

As a result, the Court held that the search of the defendant’s computer was lawful and that the evidence should not be suppressed.

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