Child Porn Charges Dropped Because Investigators Cut-And-Paste Wrong Info Into Warrant Requests

from the simple-errors-cause-bigger-headaches dept

This could have happened to any civilian, but it happened to a sheriff's deputy. While investigating a former Danes County (WI) deputy for sexual assault charges related to his inappropriate relationship with a convict (state law makes this a sexual assault crime even if consensual, because of the supervisory role deputies have), investigators came across child porn images stored on his computer.

The detectives acquired two warrants: one to search Deputy Jeffrey Hilgers' home for evidence of his relationship with the inmate (now out on probation) and one to search his computer for more child porn. But they screwed up. The end result: all seven child pornography charges have been dropped.
Child pornography possession charges against a former Dane County sheriff’s deputy were dismissed Wednesday after a judge ruled that there was a fatal cut-and-paste error on a search warrant that led to the discovery of the illegal images on the deputy’s computers.

Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson ruled that in fashioning a search warrant for the home of former deputy Jeffrey C. Hilgers, 43, investigators inadvertently used a paragraph which stated that they were seeking child pornography, and not one specifying a search for evidence of an illicit relationship between Hilgers and a woman who was serving a jail sentence at home on electronic monitoring.
Hilgers is still possibly on the hook for second-degree sexual assault charges, but everything related to the child porn discovered in his possession has been vanished away. The judge called the error "insurmountable." Details matter, and it makes no difference that it was someone in law enforcement facing these charges. The judge recognized that it was the sort of error anyone could make.
“I do think that likely what happened was a result of cutting and pasting by using a warrant from a different case that involved child pornography,” Markson said, agreeing with an explanation for the error provided earlier by Deputy District Attorney Michelle Viste.
Anyone could have made this mistake, but that doesn't excuse it. People are wrongly jailed due to procedural errors. And people walk away from criminal charges for the same thing. Our nation's law enforcement officers wield a considerable amount of power -- especially when coupled with government prosecutors. But this power must be constrained if justice is the desired outcome. Not every warrant is its own special snowflake, but if prosecutors want the acquired evidence to hold up in court, they need to be sure those below them have been diligent in their work.

A second-degree assault charge is all that remains -- something that seems extremely odd considering the former deputy and former inmate are now married. (For now...) But the more damning charges no longer exist because someone decided to boilerplate the warrant app using wording borrowed from another case. Warrants may be largely similar but each case is unique, and if the words "probable cause" are going to be worth anything, unfortunate situations like these need to happen. Otherwise, every warrant will become boilerplate and the "probable cause" used to justify the search will be nothing more than taking the (sworn) words out of someone else's mouth and using someone else's alleged misdeeds to justify the search of another person's property.
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Filed Under: 4th amendment, cut and paste, dane county, jeffrey hilgers, mistakes, warrant


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  • identicon
    Whoever, 9 Feb 2015 @ 2:52pm

    "But they screwed up"

    "screwed up".

    Yeah, right. What's the chance that this wasn't a deliberate action that happened to protect a colleague?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2015 @ 6:17pm

      Re: "But they screwed up"

      What's the chance that this wasn't a deliberate action that happened to protect a colleague?

      Same could be asked about the name screw-up on the Snowden paperwork or so many other events where paperwork follow-up just doesn't happen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    drjimmy (profile), 9 Feb 2015 @ 2:57pm

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2015 @ 3:00pm

    IQ?

    Maybe it is time to rethink the ban on hiring smart people as cops.


    Of course that will do nothing to impact the us vs them attitude. At least initially.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2015 @ 3:09pm

    Bravo Hizzoner!

    I find it remarkably laudable that the judge properly assessed the evidence as inadmissable due to the poor construction of the warrant. The police ARE supposed to be held to MUCH higher standards than the rest of us. Technicalities are the heart of the law and DO matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cypherspace (profile), 9 Feb 2015 @ 3:47pm

    I get the feeling that, if the defendant in question was NOT a sheriff's deputy the judge would have upheld the warrant. The high court / low court phenomenon is very well established.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2015 @ 7:45pm

      Re:

      if the defendant in question was NOT a sheriff's deputy

      Dane county? How about a black college student in Walker's Wisconsin?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 10 Feb 2015 @ 9:57am

      Re:

      I get the feeling that, if the defendant in question was NOT a sheriff's deputy the judge would have upheld the warrant.

      I was going to say the same thing. It seems like there are a lot of cases where judges say sure, the police screwed up the warrant, but we can allow the evidence anyway - if the warrant is not against a cop.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ysth (profile), 9 Feb 2015 @ 4:58pm

    Assault charge? Seems like the assault here is on the sanctity of marriage :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2015 @ 5:51pm

    It was only child pornography, it was not like it was something serious, like copyright infringement

    /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 9 Feb 2015 @ 10:00pm

    the way the police act there is a 50/50 chance most people will think this was on purpose to get him off the hook.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 10 Feb 2015 @ 3:24am

    Well, chuck this one up to proof humans are stupid.

    No, no. Not because of the copy/paste error.

    Because a woman married an ex-cop being investigated for child porn.

    Tell me I'm not the only one having cold chills should this couple produce a daughter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pragmatic, 10 Feb 2015 @ 6:42am

      Re:

      I'm with you on principle, but bear in mind that perfectly innocent pictures of kids can be interpreted as CP, e.g. Junior on the potty, in the bath, or running about in the buff.

      Innocent till proven guilty, my friend.

      Yeah, I know there is a 50/50 chance you're right.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    James Comey, 10 Feb 2015 @ 3:41am

    Keyboard manufacturers are aiding pedophiles. It's time to ban the sale of input devices possessing functional Ctrl, C, and V keys. Multi-button mice and Edit menus: we've got our eye on you guys, too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      J.C., 10 Feb 2015 @ 3:49am

      Re:

      My aides have just informed me that while C is still under suspicion, our prime suspect is currently known as 'X'. We really need better proofreaders here at the FBI.

      P.S. - Terrorism!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 10 Feb 2015 @ 8:48am

    "7 Counts..."

    That's all they found? 7 pics? I suppose it depends on context... How many "legal" pics in the mix? Are we talking children or 17yo's? Browser cahce or collection? Etc.

    The fact they charged him suggests the people laying charges were out to get him - no honor among thieves and all that - so I doubt a deliberate mistake. As we saw with the OJ trial, even when the police KNOW the case is huge and the defendant has extraordinary resources, they can be stupid. This was likely just the same random stupidity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 10 Feb 2015 @ 10:26am

      Re: "7 Counts..."

      That's all they found? 7 pics? I suppose it depends on context... How many "legal" pics in the mix? Are we talking children or 17yo's? Browser cahce or collection? Etc.

      In today's world, none of that matters. A single explicit picture of someone 17 years, 11 months and 29 days old makes a person a monster who must be locked up for as long as possible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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