Jeffers v. Commonwealth, 2013 WL 2971395 (Va. Ct. Crim. Appeals)

Pursuant to a conditional guilty plea, appellant was convicted of 18 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of reproduction of child pornography.  Appellant argued that the trial court erred in not suppressing incriminating evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant.

Investigators with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) learned that images of child pornography were being posted to the internet by a computer with a particular Internet Protocol (IP) address.  Pursuant to a subpoena of the Internet Service Provider (ISP), the IP address was to a particular person at a particular address.  Deputies went to the location on a surveillance mission to prepare the affidavit for the search warrant.  The deputies described the property as having a trailer and a small barn on it, as well as a car which was registered to a second party, who was a convicted child pornographer.  The search warrant allowed for the search of the persons, vehicles, or outbuildings located within the curtilage.  The officers went to the trailer and learned that Appellant (the owner of the car) did not live in the trailer, but rather lived in the barn.  Appellant admitted that he received internet service from a wire connected at the trailer.  The search revealed a router which provided internet service to the barn.  The computer found in the barn contained images of child pornography.

Search Warrant Attack: Appellant argued that the police officers misinterpreted the scope of the warrant to include the barn.  Specifically he claimed that once the police officers learned that he lived in the barn and not the trailer, the barn was no longer within the “scope” of the warrant.

Police officers executing a particularized search warrant need not read its scope either narrowly or broadly, only reasonably. Search warrants are not directed at persons; they authorize the search of ’[places]’ and the seizure of things. Indeed, [t]he critical element in a reasonable search is not that the owner of the property is suspected of crime but that there is reasonable cause to believe that the specific things to be searched for and seized are located on the property to which entry is sought.

In the instant case, police had traced child pornography to this address, but did not know in which building the contraband would be found.

Ruling of the trial court affirmed.

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