Our client was a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He was arrested as a result of an internet sting operation conducted by a detective with the City of Marietta Police Department. His case was indicted in Cobb County Superior Court.
The detective created a fake profile on Grindr, a gay adult dating app, stating that his name was “Eric” and that he was 19 years old. The profile had a picture of someone who clearly appeared to be 19 years of age. Our client then clicked on Eric’s profile believing that it was truly a 19-year-old.
During their conversation, our client asked if he had more pictures and two more photos were sent to him by the detective. These pictures, like the one in the profile, also depicted someone who appeared to be at least 19 years old. After sending these pictures, “Eric” stated that he was really only 14 years old. Our client did not believe this due to the pictures which were not at all consistent with someone who was 14.
Moreover, the manner in which the detective communicated was not consistent with the way a 14-year-old would. He did not use abbreviations or emojis like teens do and he used a lot of mature phrases. Plus, when “Eric” asked whether the client was ok with him being 14, the client asked “were those your pics?” After “Eric” responded “yea,” the client agreed to meet him.
During discovery, it became evident that the detective failed to take a screenshot of the fake Grindr profile he created. As a result, there would be no way for us to show at trial the exact profile that our client responded to. This was problematic as he relied on the presentation in the Grindr profile in forming the belief that “Eric” was not 14 years old.
We then filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the detective’s failure to preserve this critical piece of evidence that was favorable for the defense. We pointed out that at trial the State must prove that the client believed he was communicating with a 14-year-old child. In maintaining that he did not believe this to be the case, the most important piece of evidence for the client would be the Grindr profile that he initially responded to. This profile was the very first impression that the client had of “Eric” and would have been most influential in forming his belief as to his age.
We argued that this profile would be essential evidence to show that the client was clearly reaching out to an apparent adult, and not a minor – thus proving that he was not seeking out a child as he was charged. Also, this evidence was critical in proving that the client was not predisposed to commit this type of offense which we would be required to prove to establish an entrapment defense.
We also pointed out that the detective was quite conscientious to preserve screenshots of our client’s Grindr profile as well as all of their communications. Nevertheless, he destroyed the most favorable piece of evidence for the defense – the fake Grindr profile of the 19-year-old that he was originally portraying “Eric” to be.
Following an evidentiary hearing, the court granted our motion to dismiss, ruling that the detective’s failure to preserve the Grindr profile amounted to a violation of our client’s due process rights. The court held that the fake Grindr profile was clearly exculpatory and that its exculpatory value was obvious to the detective at the time he failed to preserve it. The court concluded that dismissal of the case was warranted since the detective’s conduct violated our client’s right to a fair trial.
As a result, the case against our client was dismissed.