In March of 2015, a computer was seized by authorities who had been investigating online child pornography. The owner of the computer is a former police sergeant. Authorities tried to unlock the man's computer, but were not able to do so. They brought the former police sergeant into a forensic lab and he tried out several passwords before indicating he could not recall the password.
Federal officials believe that the locked hard drive contains “very graphic images” of children engaging in sexual acts. Federal prosecutors obtained a search warrant, and when the accused failed to unlock the computer, state court proceedings were held to determine if the accused should be held in contempt.
He won the contempt hearing at the state level, arguing that the Fifth Amendment protected him against self-incrimination. However, the case was moved to federal court and prosecutors argued a “foregone conclusion” exemption exists, which allows them to compel the surrender of evidence that authorities already know exists.
The federal judge presiding over the case sided with prosecutors and the former police sergeant was held in contempt of court, ordered to jail and has been imprisoned for months. These serious consequences -- imposed upon someone who has not even been convicted of a crime -- underscore how seriously child pornography crimes are taken. A New York City federal sex crime defense attorney should be consulted by anyone accused of child pornography crimes or other federal sexual offenses.
Because the accused is a former police officer, it is not safe for him to be housed with the general population. As a result, he has effectively been imprisoned in solitary confinement for seven months. The effect of the contempt order imprisoning him for not providing his password has been to force the accused to choose between contempt, perjury or self-incrimination. This is the exact choice that the Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination were supposed to prevent accused individuals from having to make.
The accused has never been charged with a crime. However, prosecutors have insisted in court papers that the images are on the hard drives and many of the images contain graphic depictions of children, including those who are just toddlers. The sister of the accused has also contacted law enforcement to indicate she had seen him with pornography on a device in the past.
Even if all of this is true, none of this justifies trampling on important constitutional rights. The accused is appealing his contempt order to a federal appeals court, which will make a decision on whether it is appropriate to continue imprisoning the accused for not giving police access to his computer despite the search warrant.
If you have been accused of violating the law and there is a search warrant that gives authorities the right to conduct a search, you need to understand what your rights are and how the law protects you. An attorney with The Law Office of James E. Tyner, PLLC can provide you with assistance in responding to serious charges.