Appeals Court Approves Child Porn Searches

Gretchen Gallen
SAN FRANCISCO – An appeals court has ruled that police can search a suspect’s computer hard drive if that person is known to have subscribed to a child porn website, enabling police and investigators fewer constraints during child porn searches and seizures.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that there is "fair probability" that members of child porn sites who have submitted their credit card information are likely to be receiving and downloading child porn images, and therefore, it is within a reasonable scope that investigators be allowed to search hard drives for evidence.

The decision is based on a case involving the website LolitaGurls.com and a site member, Micah Gourde, who was under investigation. While Gourde was a known member of the site, and child porn was found on his hard drive by the FBI at the time of the investigation, his attorney had tried to suppress more than 100 child porn images arguing that the FBI’s affidavit did not establish probable cause that Gourde had violated child pornography law, and therefore a search of his computer was unwarranted.

But the appeals court determined in its ruling that since Gourde had paid money to be a member of the site, that there was “probable cause” that he had in fact downloaded illegal images, and that the FBI had acted fairly in its search of the hard drive.

The panel voted nine to two in its ruling that a district court had properly declined to suppress the evidence, according to reports. Gourde’s attorney has said he will consider appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.