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