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Authority Of A Search Warrant Does Not Diminish Over Time When Property Is Continuously Held By Police


Authority Of a search warrant does not lapse when property is held by police appeals

People v. DeProspero

2013 NY Slip Op 01992

New York Court of Appeals

Decided on: March 26, 2013

Authority Of Search Warrant Does Not Lapse When Property Is Continuously Held By Police.

Summary: Defendant plead guilty to predatory sexual assault in the first degree. A warrant was issued on May 4, 2009, where Defendant’s digital camera was seized from his home. The camera revealed several hundred still-frame digital images depicting him engaged in a sexual act with a child. The examination of the memory card however, was not performed until January 2010. In the interim, Defendant was prosecuted for, and in September 2009, he plead guilty to one count of possessing a sexual performance of a child. Defendant served the prison sentenced imposed upon him for the September 2009 conviction. After his appeal from the judgment of conviction elapsed, his Attorney in December of 2009, contacted the County Prosecutor who had handled the matter and requested the return of various items seized from Defendant’s residence.

     The Prosecutor responded that he could not return items containing contraband images and that he would have to obtain them. The State Police laboratory had been in possession of Defendant’s property since the warrant’s return. On contacting the laboratory, the Prosecutor had learned that the devices had not yet been forensically examined. It was only when they were finally examined a relatively short time later that the still-frame images upon which Defendants presently challenged predatory sexual assault conviction is based, were discovered.

Defendant sought to suppress the evidence obtained in the search of his home stating that the warrant authorizing the search was issued on a deficient predicate. However, the motion court held that the State’s investigator’s affidavit that was submitted supported the warrant application that detailed the tracing of numerous child pornography downloads to an IP address used under an internet account bearing Defendant’s name and address. This established probable cause for the requested search and seizure performed in May 2009. The Court of Appeals held that Defendant was deprived of any legitimate expectation of privacy he may have had with respect to the seized items. The seized items were obtained by the warrant and were held by Police for the purpose of further analysis and examination. Neither the Fourth Amendment nor its New York State Constitutional equivalent specifically limit the length of time property may be held following a lawful seizure. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

See Also: Right To Counsel Does Not Attach Because Of Delay In Arraignment

Issue: Whether the authority for a search warrant lapsed or expires regarding property that is continuously in Police possession after the Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of the fruit of that same warrant.

Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the May 4, 2009 warrant deprived Defendant of any legitimate expectation of privacy he may have had regarding his seized property. There was probable cause to issue a warrant for the search and seizure of Defendant’s camera that revealed still-frame images of him engaged in a sexual act with a child. The Court of Appeals held that the continued authority of a search warrant does not permanently link to a particular prosecution. Rather, the duration of a warrant’s authority is to be measured by the continuing existence of the crime or criminal act. Neither the Fourth Amendment nor its New York State Constitutional equivalent specifically limit the length of time property may be held when seized pursuant to a lawful warrant.

Facts: Defendant plead guilty to predatory sexual assault in the first degree after his motion to suppress evidence alleged to have been obtained by the State in consequence of an illegal search was denied. A warrant was issued on May 4, 2009 where Defendant’s digital camera contained evidence consisting of several hundred still-frame digital images of him engaged in a sexual act with a child. Defendant was prosecuted, and in September of 2009 he plead guilty to one count of possessing a sexual performance of a child. Defendant served the prison sentenced imposed upon his September 2009 conviction, and after his appeal from the judgment of conviction elapsed, his attorney contacted the County Prosecutor and requested the return of the items seized pursuant to the May 2009 warrant.

     The Prosecutor responded that he could not return items containing contraband images and that he would have obtain them. On contacting the laboratory, the Prosecutor had learned that the devices had not yet been forensically examined. It was only when they were finally examined that the still-frame images upon which Defendants presently challenged predatory sexual assault conviction is based were discovered. Defendant sought to suppress the evidence obtained in the search of his home stating that the warrant authorizing the search was issued on a deficient predicate. The lower court denied his motion and Defendant appealed.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures is now prevalently understood to protect what an individual may legitimately expect to keep private against unwarranted intrusion by agents of the State. In this case, the execution of the May 4, 2009 warrant deprived Defendant of any legitimate expectation of privacy he may have had respecting his property. The Police retained the items, which were pursuant to the warrant for an unspecified period for the purpose of further examination. However, The Defendant argues that the seized items were no longer useful in that or any other pending criminal proceedings.

In December 2009, when his attorney requested the return of his property and was denied, the Court of Appeals held that it does not follow that the authority of the warrant should be understood to have decreased, or Defendant’s legitimate expectations as to the privacy of his seized property to have been eliminated.

Defendant’s property had been seized upon probable cause to believe that he had repeatedly used it to engage in felonies. Nothing had happened since the warrant was signed to diminish the cause for its issue. The predicate for the seizure and examination of Defendant’s digital media devices was at least as compelling in January 2010, as it had been in May 2009. The Court of Appeals concluded that the warrant at the time of the State laboratory examination remained valid and allowed both the State’s continued custody of the seized property and the lesser-related intrusion involved in that property’s inspection.

The Court of Appeals held that even if Defendant’s property contained no contraband, it might be subject to forfeiture as instrumentalities of crime in a proceeding. The Court of Appeals held that neither the Fourth Amendment, nor its New York State Constitutional equivalent specifically limit the length of time property may be held when seized pursuant to a lawful warrant.


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