Army Court of Criminal Appeals reverses conviction based on a bad search.

On 13 December 2017, in United States v. Morales, the Army Court of Criminal Appeal (ACCA) reversed PFC Morales’ court-martial conviction for abusive sexual content, indecent viewing and indecent recording. In this case, a female soldier alleged that PFC Morales sexually touched her while massaging her legs. After the alleged touching the female soldier and PFC Morales exchanged some text messages. The female soldier showed these messages to investigators. The female soldier also told investigators that she saw a nude picture of herself on PFC Morales’ cell phone one month earlier. Allegedly, he had copied the image from her computer. Investigators sought to get a search authorization from a military magistrate based on this information. However, the investigators failed to present evidence to the magistrate regarding the nude picture. They mistakenly only told the magistrate about the text messages. Based on information provided by investigators, the magistrate authorized the search of cellphones and hard drives for evidence of “digital communication pertaining to the sexual assault.” The investigators searched and found three images that might have depicted the alleged sexual touching. The prosecution attempted to admit these pictures into evidence at the court-martial. The defense objected to the images. The military judge allowed the evidence to be admitted. PFC Morales was convicted and sentenced to 18 months confinement and a bad-conduct discharge. On appeal, the ACCA overturned this conviction saying that the images were improperly seized. While the investigators might have been able to show probable cause to search and seize images based on what the female soldier told them, they failed to relay that information to the magistrate. Because the magistrate knew nothing of the images, it cannot be said that his authorization intended to extend to a search of images. Therefore, the ACCA held that the investigators did not have probable cause to search for the images later presented as evidence. If you or a loved one was convicted in a court-martial based on evidence that you believe was improperly searched and/or 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.

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