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United States v. Moorehead

The FBI accessed Playpen and verified that the website contained child pornography, then executed a search warrant at a North Carolina server hosting company that owned the IP address. The FBI seized a server that contained a copy of Playpen. Because of a server misconfiguration, the government was able to gain administrative control of the website. For two weeks, the FBI operated Playpen from a Virginia government-controlled computer server but was unable to identify the individuals who logged on. The FBI turned to counter-technology called NIT, which downloads on the user’s computer and sends back information. An Eastern District of Virginia magistrate signed a warrant authorizing the government to deploy NIT on “any user or administrator who logs into [Playpen] by entering a username and password.” NIT identified the IP address associated with a Playpen visitor’s username. An administrative subpoena was sent to the Internet Service Provider that operated that address. The response led to Moorehead’s Tennessee residence. The government obtained a residential warrant and seized Moorehead’s computer equipment. Moorehead admitted that he used the Internet to view child pornography. He was indicted under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B) and 2252(a)(2). He unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the NIT Warrant violated 28 U.S.C. 636(a) because it was executed outside of the magistrate’s territorial jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, applying the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

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  1. Timmmy

    “The Sixth Circuit affirmed, applying the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.”

    Since when can rules override law? I guess I can make up my own rule to be excluded from all laws.

    • Dustin

      If I remember right, part of the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule is that it can be shown that the evidence in question could have came from an alternative source and/or that a legal warrant would have been granted.

      My biggest problem is that it’s another example of how judges re-interpret the rules for prosecution of sex crimes. Willing to bet the good faith rule wouldn’t have been used here if Moorehead were accused of drug trafficking.

      • Ed C

        Not quite, Dustin. I think you are confusing this with the doctrine of “inevitable discovery,” which is a derivative of the “independent source” doctrine. The good faith exception generally says that if police collect evidence using a warrant which is later declared to be invalid, then the evidence is not necessarily excluded.

        Between inevitable discovery and good faith, judges can always find a way to avoid the exclusionary rule. Remember this is only a rule, not a constitutional issue. The Fourth Amendment proscribes an unreasonable search or seizure, without contemplating a specific remedy or method to avoid the intrusion. The exclusionary rule was developed in 1913 (I think) as a way to dissuade police from pushing the search envelope. With witch hunt issues like sex offenses, judges routinely move the goal posts; which diminishes the rights of all.

  2. Eric

    This was identical to my case. Every time my attorney found a legal problem the judge scoffed it off with the “Good Faith” rule. The most disturbing thing is that the government can take over and run these sites providing illegal material, and in my case the sites enticed you with advertising, all run my the feds. So where is the public protection? It was all good faith. They took over the illegal site, ran the site, lured people in, got their IP’s raided the house, all in good faith.

  3. Chris f

    For those that dont know what the good faith rule is…basically, if there was an error with what the judge did in granting the warrant or an error by police in the reasons given for the need or in its execution, the evidence obtained wont be supressed unless it benefits society to teach the cops or judge a lesson and slap them for what they did wrong to discourage unlawfully searches in the future.

    In this case, the search was against the rules at the time, but legislation changes the rules to make it ok. Since teaching the judge or cops a lesson wont do any future good now that the rules changed, they allow the evidence. Pretty backwards if you ask me. It just means if evidence is likely to be suppressed, they judge or cops just need to get legislature to change the rules before trial.

    So basically, our constition forbids illegal searches but the results are usually ok to use against us anyway and that constitutional protection has little bite. I call BS and a gutless judiciary.

    • Lake County

      In my case, they started the search without a warrant, but got the warrant 2 hours into their search of my house. They walked into my house stating “we have badges and everything”. My attorney tried to suppress the evidence and the judge agreed they came in without a warrant and without permission, but since the cops said they were only securing the evidence the search was valid. I had not even been arrested when they started their search and they said I was free to go if I wanted. I stayed there while frantically looking through the phone book for an attorney to help me. They arrested me when I decided I was finally going to leave.

      • Eric

        “We don’t need no stinking badges, we do it in good faith.”

      • Timmmy

        No warrant equates to illegal entry into your home. That is right to use deadly force there.

  4. mike r

    The machine just chippjng away at the constitution Chris. I have not read the case, but it sounds as if the cops now have unfettered discretion to violate 4th amendment protections and can just raid anyone, anytime for ay reason as long as the get the warrant regardless if the facts or affidavits are true. Sounds kind of like the FISA court application and a fake dossier..

  5. Jack

    So what’s the deal after this ruling? Are the feds just gonna be able to operate a site like play pen again unimpeded again?

    • Ed C

      The feds have a very long history of distributing child pornography. There is nothing in the law allowing them to do that; indeed specific laws apply only to law enforcement. While in federal prison, we did a lot of research using only the Lexis resources available to inmates. This resulted in a 60-page tome documenting unlawful police activity. The problem is that nobody cares. Police will always be given a pass.

  6. Tim

    Big brother got a brand new toy.
    (eff.org)
    Couse, this very old news.

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