A man got the shock of his life in 2011 when he brought his computer in for service by the Geek Squad and ended up being charged with possession of child pornography. Luckily for him, a federal judge tossed out the evidence as inadmissible.
As you can imagine, an accusation that you had child porn on your computer wreaks havoc on your life, and not everyone who is accused is guilty. Unfortunately, false accusations are made, in the midst of contentious child custody battles, out of animus or vengeance, or simply due to a misunderstanding.
It seems likely this case fell into the third category. For one thing, the man was a gynecologic oncologist, so the image the Geek Squad found on his hard drive might have been a scientific image that could seem sexually explicit to the uninitiated.
In any case, the Geek Squad, upon discovering a questionable image, immediately forwarded it to the FBI for investigation and eventual prosecution.
At least three good reasons to exclude the questionable image from evidence
A federal judge made several valid legal arguments when excluding the questionable image from evidence. First, it was discovered in an area of the computer called “unallocated space.” This is an area that can only be accessed with special tools, so it was unlikely the man even knew it was there.
Second, the judge found that the search warrant for the computer had been obtained using misleading information, according to the ABA Journal.
The third is a bit more complicated. The issue was whether the Geek Squad, which is part of Best Buy, was acting in concert with federal authorities when it searched the man’s hard drive for child pornography.
When the government engages in an unreasonable search or seizure, the evidence can and should be excluded so that the prosecution can’t benefit from illegal behavior. When a private citizen engages in something unreasonable and then turns resulting evidence over to the authorities, however, there may have been no unlawful behavior by the government.
At the same time, the government can’t just hire private citizens to do its dirty work. And, in a past case the judge had found that Best Buy analysts had intentionally worked to assist the FBI with the government’s full knowledge. They had even been paid.
This time, however, the judge found that the defendant couldn’t argue that Best Buy and the FBI were in cahoots because Best Buy’s Geek Squad contracts tell customers right up front that any evidence of illegal acts will be forwarded to the authorities. He was warned.
The final reason is the most convincing. According to the federal judge, the image in question didn’t qualify as child pornography.