Appellate Court Rules Milwaukee Police Search of Wisconsin Man's Computers Was Lawful in Child Pornography Case

By Reddin & Singer

UBS

In State v. Gant, police were called to a Milwaukee home after a man reported to authorities that his wife committed suicide by hanging. Before law enforcement officials arrived, however, the husband apparently moved his wife’s body. Since it was police protocol to investigate all apparent suicides as a homicide, law enforcement officers collected evidence including three computers from the couple’s home. According to police, the computers were seized because individuals who commit suicide often leave goodbye notes on such devices. Although the husband consented to a search of his property, he reportedly refused to provide law enforcement with permission to search the three computers.

Although the wife’s death was deemed a suicide by a medical examiner, local police continued to investigate the circumstances surrounding her death. A few weeks after she died, the husband apparently requested that the three computers previously taken into evidence be returned to him. Although law enforcement officials refused the man’s request, he failed to seek the return of his property under WIS. STAT. § 968.20.

About one month after his wife committed suicide, the man was charged with exposing himself to a child. Not long after, the man’s brother apparently told police that the man admitted to molesting his children and possessing child pornography on his computers. Seven months later, the husband was charged with first-degree sexual assault of a child. Around the same time, the man’s mother-in-law also reported finding DVDs containing pornographic images of children in the couple’s home.

Soon after receiving the mother-in-law’s report, police obtained a search warrant to analyze the man’s computers. Following a search that was conducted by a High Technology Unit Detective, hundreds of child pornography images were allegedly discovered on one of the computers. In addition, a number of DVDs found in the home also contained such unlawful depictions of children. After police interviewed the man, he admitted the computers were his but denied that the pornographic images of minors belonged to him.

Next, the husband was charged with 10 separate counts of possessing child pornography. The man was also charged with resisting arrest and battery. Later, the State of Wisconsin consolidated the new charges that were filed against the man with the prior exposure charge. After the trial court denied the husband’s motion to suppress the evidence uncovered on his computers, the man entered into a plea agreement. He was ultimately sentenced to serve 100 years in prison.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District I, the convicted man argued the trial court committed error when it refused to suppress the pornographic images found on his computers because Milwaukee police conducted an illegal search and seizure in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. After examining the facts of the case, however, Wisconsin’s First District ruled that law enforcement officers had probable cause to take the man’s computers into evidence following his wife’s unnatural death. In addition, the court stated that even if the seizure of his computers was not lawful due to its length, the child pornography evidence was legally obtained because Milwaukee police procured a search warrant that was based on information gathered from independent sources prior to conducting the search, and the search was unrelated to the department’s prior retention of the computers.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District I affirmed the trial court’s order denying the convicted man’s motion to suppress the child pornography evidence uncovered on his computers.

If you were charged with possession of child pornography in Milwaukee, you should discuss your rights with an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible. To speak with a seasoned Wisconsin sex crimes lawyer today, contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP through our website or give us a call at (414) 271-6400.

Additional Resources

State v. Gant, Wis: Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015

Photo Credit: Alvimann, MorgueFile