Probable Cause and Child Pornography

Shea blogged last week about State v. Terrell, a case in which the defendant’s girlfriend saw on one of the defendant’s USB drives an “image of [the girlfriend’s] nine-year-old granddaughter sleeping without a shirt.” She called the police, and an officer found additional images of “partially or fully nude minors” on the drive. The officer sought and obtained a search warrant that led to the discovery of child pornography. Shea’s post, and the case itself, focused on the officer’s initial warrantless search and whether it was justified under the private search doctrine. But the court’s recitation of the facts reminded me of another common issue in child pornography cases: how much information about an image must an officer provide in order to establish probable cause that the image constitutes child pornography?

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Teen “Sexting” Is a Problem, But Is It a Crime?

Last week, a local news outlet reported that the 17-year-old quarterback of a Cumberland County high school was benched when school officials learned he was under investigation for allegedly sending “sexually explicit” photos of himself to his 16-year-old girlfriend. According to the report, officers took the teenager’s phone while investigating another incident and discovered photos of himself and his girlfriend on the phone. Now, both the teenager and his girlfriend are facing charges for “sexting” in what appears to have been a consensual exchange of nude photos between two teens in a dating relationship. Judging by the string of harsh comments to this report (which use various derogatory words to describe the charges), many people are outraged that such behavior, while improper, is a crime. Instead, they suggest that the behavior is a discipline issue that should be privately addressed by parents at home. In response to these concerns, this post examines the criminal laws in NC that possibly cover sexting and discusses their application to minors.

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Computer Technicians’ Duty to Report Child Pornography

Last week, I blogged about the application of the private search doctrine in child pornography cases. I noted that one recent case began when a computer repair technician contacted police to report child pornography on a computer he was repairing. A story about the case stated that “North Carolina law requires computer technicians to report any such images found during the course of their work to local law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.” I didn’t know that, so I did some research.

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The Private Search Doctrine in Child Pornography Cases

Many child pornography cases begin when someone with access to the defendant’s computer looks through it, finds child pornography, and contacts law enforcement. For example, the recent Raleigh case in which a “Santa for hire” was charged with possessing child pornography began when a computer repair technician contacted police. In this type of case, does the private party’s search of the defendant’s computer destroy the defendant’s privacy interest such that an officer may then search the computer without a search warrant? A recent federal case explores the issue.

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Discovery in Child Pornography Cases

There’s a recurrent discovery issue in child pornography cases. Generally, it goes like this: the defendant is arrested and charged with a child pornography offense. The prosecution contends that the defendant’s computer contains images of child pornography. The defendant retains a computer expert to examine his computer, hoping to show that the images were downloaded … Read more

Should Child Pornography Offenders Forfeit Their Homes?

I’ll get to the topic of today’s post in just a moment, but first I wanted to note what I found to be a fascinating little tidbit about the Willingham case, which I’ve previously addressed here and here. It has to do with Willingham’s final words, and I promise that if you have the slightest … Read more

News Roundup

Update: The creator of the barrel monster has had his day in court, and appears to have received some sort of deferred prosecution, as reported here. Original Post: My colleagues have contributed several great posts recently, and I have a couple more ready to go, but there have been several news stories over the past … Read more

Child Pornography Sentencing

There’s a tremendous debate going on over child pornography sentencing in the federal courts. In a number of high-profile cases, judges have imposed sentences well below what the federal sentencing guidelines recommend. An Assistant Federal Public Defender published an influential paper arguing that the guidelines for such cases have been increased over time for reasons … Read more

Pedophilia and Probable Cause

I’m getting ready to teach a session at the Superior Court Judges’ Conference about searches of computers and other electronic devices, so I’ve been reading all the computer search cases I can get my hands on. Recently, I stumbled on United States v. Crespo-Rios, __ F. Supp. 2d __, 2009 WL 1595463 (D. Puerto Rico … Read more


The News and Observer has had several interesting criminal justice articles over the past few days — including one about the great potted plant caper, available here: — but the one that struck me the most was this one, about “sexting”: Apparently, posting naked pictures of oneself on Myspace is soooooooo 2008.  Kids who are really … Read more