First Circuit Appeals Court Latest To Overturn Playpen Suppression Order

from the Rule-41-changes-create-another-foregone-conclusion dept

A third Appeals Court has ruled on the tactics the FBI used to track down users of a dark web child porn site. And the third one to rule -- the First Circuit Appeals Court -- continues the government's shut out of suppression orders at the appellate level.

In the two previous cases to reach this level (Tenth and Eighth), the judges found the FBI's Network Investigative Technique to be a search under the Fourth Amendment. This wasn't much of an issue because the FBI had a warrant. The real issue was the warrant's reach: it was issued in Virginia but the NIT found a home in computers all over the US, not to mention the rest of the world.

The lower courts' decisions ordering suppression of evidence for the use of an invalid warrant have all been rejected by US appeals courts. Good faith has been granted to the agent securing the warrant, thus preventing suppression of evidence. In one case, the court even conjectured the deterrent effect of evidence suppression made little sense now that the FBI has statutory permission to ignore jurisdictional limitations when seeking warrants.

The First Circuit Appeals Court's decision [PDF] is no different than those preceding it. The previously-granted suppression is reversed and the FBI awarded good faith for its warrant application, which clearly told the Virginia magistrate judge the agency intended to violate the warrant's jurisdictional limits. This decision, however, limits its discussion to the good faith exception and the judges refuse to draw possibly precedential conclusions about the magistrate judge's legal authority to grant a "search anywhere" warrant.

The "search anywhere" part of the warrant the lower court found invalid is all academic at this point. Rule 41 jurisdictional limits have been lifted. But that did not happen until after this warrant was procured and deployed. Like the Eighth Circuit before it, the First Circuit decides this after-the-fact rule change somewhat negates the deterrent effect of suppression.

The First Circuit says good faith prevails, as the warrant was more or less explicit in its intentions and still managed to be signed by a judge. In fact, the court praises the FBI for applying for a warrant it likely knew violated pre-rule change jurisdiction limitations.

We are unpersuaded by Levin's argument that because, at least according to him, the government was not sure whether the NIT warrant could validly issue under Rule 41, there is government conduct here to deter. Faced with the novel question of whether an NIT warrant can issue -- for which there was no precedent on point -- the government turned to the courts for guidance. The government presented the magistrate judge with a request for a warrant, containing a detailed affidavit from an experienced officer, describing in detail its investigation, including how the NIT works, which places were to be searched, and which information was to be seized. We see no benefit in deterring such conduct -- if anything, such conduct should be encouraged, because it leaves it to the courts to resolve novel legal issues.

I guess the court would prefer to tangle with legal issues it hasn't seen before. This would be one of them -- at least in terms of thousands of searches performed with a single warrant from a seized child porn server located in Virginia. The legal issues may be novel but the end result is more of the same: good faith exception granted and the admission of evidence questionably obtained.

Filed Under: doj, evidence, fbi, first circuit, gag order, nit, playpen, suppression order

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  1. icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 1 Nov 2017 @ 6:44pm

    Not Really Regulated

    Honestly, the situation is one that is not really readily handled by the law as it was written at the time. The internet is a pesky thing that doesn't stop at most borders, and certainly not state ones. It was without a doubt a foregone conclusion that the actions permitted in the warrant would go past the border.

    The judge issuing the warrant essentially punted. He (or she) probably knew this would expand in scope, but figured the appeals courts could deal with it. He was correct, and more so, it appears the lawmakers have also taken a swing.

    Don't be surprised if you run into a whole bunch of this as the legal system wrestles with the online world and discovers that neat little boundaries drawn on a map don't mean much for data or illegal activity.

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