Army and Air Force case being reviewed to determine if investigators’ search and seizure of computer materials was overbroad.
Two recent cases are being reviewed to determine if the computer searches conducted by investigators prior to the court-martials were overbroad. Recently, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) granted review of the Air Force case, United States v. Richards. Then, right after that, The Army Judge Advocate General certified the Army case, United States v. Gurczyski for review. In Richards, the appellant was originally investigated under a Florida statute for using a computer “to meet a minor.” The warrant used to search his residence allowed for a search of “all electronic media and power cords for devices capable of transmitting or storing online communications.” In conducting this search, investigators found child pornography on some of appellant’s hard drives. Appellant argued that the search warrant was overly broad since the investigators should have been focused on only electronic media that could transmit or store online communications. Further, appellant argued that the way the investigators conducted the search itself was improper because they seized a lot of electronic media that was not capable of transmitting or storing online communications. The military judge in Richards ruled that the search and seizure was valid. The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals found that the investigators’ action were “not perfect,” however they determined that the military judge did not abuse his discretion in allowing the evidence to be admitted. The CAAF will now review this decision and determine whether the search and seizure was improper or not. In Gurczyski, the appellant was convicted of sexual offenses with a child in 2014 after pleading guilty. Prior to that court-martial, investigators collected computer files based on a warrant to search for evidence that appellant communicated with the alleged child victim. Following appellant’s court-martial conviction, images of child pornography were found on the files collected. Appellant was then later charged based on this evidence. The military judge found that the investigators exceeded the scope of the warrant in searching the thumb drive and hard drives in this case. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the military judge. The Army JAG has now certified this case for review. Opinions in these two cases will clarify the Court’s position regarding how broad investigators can search in computer crimes. These decisions could impact other cases. If you or a loved one was convicted in a court-martial based on evidence that you believe was improperly seized, contact me now. You need experience by your side to argue this complex issue. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.