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San Diego Navy SEAL Found with Child Pornography
Gregory Seerden is a Navy SEAL who was stationed in Coronado, California, he has been charged with several different felonies the main one being in possession of child pornography. This investigation began when a woman claimed that Seerden had sexually assaulted her one night when they went out. The woman claims that Serdeen and her went out for drinks and then she blacked out and woke up to find out that they had sex and reported him. This had taken place in Norfolk, Virginia. While investigators were looking into the sexual assault claim they took Seerden’s cell phone to look through it. This is where they discovered 78 pictures of suspected child pornography. There was also pictures with Seerden committing lewd acts with the victims.
Seerden has now been expedited to Norfolk, Virginia from San Diego, and pleaded not guilty to the charges last week. He is set for trial in the middle of July.
It would seem as if there was not much hope for Seerden to put forth a defense to these charges. When there are pictures and video of one committing the act it seems as if all of the go to defenses to child pornography crimes are not applicable, the main one being that the person charged did not knowingly have the images. With the person charged being in the pictures and saved on his phone that defenses would offer no help.
However, there is another defenses strategy that Seerden can take. Each and every case has a theme. A theme is something that the details what this specific case stands for, what is the meaning of it, and what impact will it have on others after the ruling. The prosecution’s theme will most likely play to the juror’s emotions, even though emotions should be excluded from the court proceedings it would be very difficult to do that in a case like this. The prosecution can easily paint a picture to make Seerden look dangerous and that it is the best interest of the community to lock dangerous people who prey on children up. This would be a very compelling theme and is difficult to rebuttal.
The defense’s strategy would be to deemphasize the facts of this case, which is Seerden having possession of child pornography and making the theme something bigger and more general, something that one can relate to. In addition, the defense would rather have a motion to suppress the evidence and not have to go in front of the jury at all. For this case, a good strategy would show that is was not in the reasonable course of the investigation to go through Seerden’s cell phone, where all of the evidence was found. This idea can also play into the fears that some have of the government overreaching and abusing their power. Some may see this as a domino effect, if it is allowed that the investigators can look through things that are not related to the case during an investigation. If this is allowed citizens may suffer from an invasion of privacy. But, this does greatly depend on of there was a warrant, and what the warrant specifically stated.
If there was an investigation and Seerden was questioned and then arrested with no search warrant the defense would have an easier time at trying to suppress the cell phone. For exclusion to be appropriate, the deterrence benefits of suppression must outweigh the rule’s heavy costs. Under a line of cases beginning with United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 104 S.Ct. 3405, 82 L.Ed.2d 677, the result of this cost-benefit analysis turns on the “flagrancy of the police misconduct. When the police exhibit “deliberate,” “reckless,” or “grossly negligent” disregard for Fourth Amendment rights, the benefits of exclusion tend to outweigh the costs. Herring, supra, at 144, 129 S.Ct. 695. Davis v. U.S., 564 U.S. 229 (2011). The benefit of suppression would be great here because it could be seen that the investigators may have deviated from the heart of the investigation and freelanced a bit. A sexual assault does not really encompass a defendant’s cell phone because it is not a part of the crime. This is distinguishable from a case where one is accused of selling drugs because it is the scope of the crime that the drug dealer would use their cell phone for business purposes. A cell phone in a sexual assault case may appeal to the court as being outside of the scope of the investigation.
This has also happened before in Military Courts where a person’s cell phone was searched while being investigated general misconduct. The court stated “Cell phones may not be searched without probable cause and warrant unless search and seizure falls within one of the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.” U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. 4. U.S. v. Wicks, 73 M.J. 93 (App. Armed Forces 2014). This further seals up the decision that a person’s cell phone is not allowed for search with no probable cause of the investigators. This case also held that, Government improperly exceeded scope of service member’s initial private search of accused’s cell phone, when detective scrolled through some text messages, absent information as to extent of initial search, and any remaining expectation of accused’s privacy was eliminated when Government sent phone to county for forensic analysis, and used these results for further computer forensic examination, searching over 45,000 text messages. Id. Wicks. This seems to analogous with Seerden’s case. Because it was unlawful to go through Wicks text messages it would seem as if it would be unlawful to go through the photos in Seerden’s phone. This could possibly have a compelling argument to the court as an overstep by the investigators into Seerdens privacy.
In the scenario where a warrant has been issued would be more complex and difficult for the defenses. A search warrant is pretty complex, it has multiple requirements to be valid. To be valid the search warrant must meet four requirements: (1) the warrant must be filed in good faith by a law enforcement officer; (2) the warrant must be based on reliable information showing probable cause to search; (3) the warrant must be issued by a neutral and detached magistrate; and (4) the warrant must state specifically the place to be searched and the items to be seized. With all of those requirements meant the warrant would be valid.
It is noted that Police may only search the particular area and seize the specific items called for in the search warrant. Police may search outside the scope of the warrant only if they are protecting their safety or the safety of others, or if they are acting to prevent the destruction of evidence. Police may seize objects not specified in the warrant only if they are in plain view during the course of the search. People v. Scott, (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 268, 279. This relates to the Seerdens case specifically because it states that the warrant must list out the items that the investigators are allowed to search for and to ultimately seize. With these being required the warrant had to state that the cell phone is allowed to be confiscated. Where it might seem like it relates to the crime Seerdens was investigated for, sexual assault, with how much people use their cell phones now, it could essentially be related to anything, if one tries hard enough to do so.
The warrant must have fully stated that the cell phone should be seized. It is not enough if the warrant is vague and has a generalization of evidence that might be related. The requirement that warrants shall particularly describe the things to be seized makes general searches under them impossible and prevents the seizure of one thing under a warrant describing another. As to what is to be taken, nothing is left to the discretion of the officer executing the warrant. People v. Smith, (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 942, 948. The defense would have to look to see if the warrant meets this standard in relation to Seerdens cell phone. The standard is the warrant would have to specify that the investigators can look into and seize the phone. This rule takes away the general search for evidence and is more of a specific detailed search. Being a California case this would act as a persuasive authority and not binding on th court as the other supreme court cases used above. However, it is a general concept in California in regards to the warrants, thus it is possible that it have some pull.
In addition, it is possible that there is not probable cause to issue the warrant in the first place. Here, because it was reported that Seerden had sexually assaulted a person may not be enough to launch an investigation and a search warrant. It was a claim from another person and there does not seem to be other witnesses who stated that they had seen this occur, thus turning this into a ‘”he said she said” situation. This makes it more difficult for the prosecution to actually have probable cause.
Thus, there may be some possibilities for the defenses to try to suppress Seerdens cell phone which contains all of the evidence for several of the felonies he is now charged with.
If you are being investigated for child pornography in San Diego, feel free to contact San Diego Criminal Lawyer Vik Monder at 619-405-0063 or visit San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney