Monday, November 12, 2007
Unlawful Entry? Rhode Island Judge Suppresses Evidence Seized From Defendant's House in Video Voyeurism Case
In October, 2005, Thomas Byrne, the owner of Off Center Coffee House in Rhode Island, was charged by police with video voyeurism. These charges came after a 10 year-old girl told police that Byrne took photos up her skirt while she helped him at the coffee shop. Based upon this allegation, the police obtained a warrant to search Byrne's home; the search uncovered not only cameras and computer equipment that authorities say contained photos of women taken without their consent, but also a marijuana plant.
Based upon a ruling by a Rhode Island Superior Court judge granting Byrne's motion to suppress the evidence, however, jurors in the case against Byrne will never see this evidence. The judge accepted Byrne's argument that the state failed to show that the warrant issued for his residence relied on more than suspicion and thus found that the evidence obtained from the search conducted pursuant to that warrant was inadmissible as "fruits of the poisonous tree." The prosecutors in the case had unsuccessfully argued that it was logical to make reasonable inferences that Byrne would have brought the pictures from his business to his home, providing justification for the search.
I think that the case was a close call, I can see the arguments on both sides of the issue, and it is difficult to question the judge's ruling without knowing all of the facts involved. That said, while I was unable to locate a similar case from Rhode Island, in my research I came across a somewhat similar case from Wisconsin where a judge found that a warrant was properly issued.
In State v. Lindgren, 687 N.W.2d 60 (Wis.App. 2004), the defendant was alleged to have taken photgraphs at his business of a 14 year-old girl in various states of undress without her consent; he also allegedly inappropriately touched the 14 year-old. In seeking a warrant to search the defendant's home, the state submitted the affidavit of Detective Ruben Silguero, which incorporated an attachment entitled "Preferential Child Molester Information." Id. at 64. The attachment, inter alia, listed common habits and characteristics of child molesters such as taking photographs of children, rarely disposing of them, going to great lengths to conceal and protect them, and storing them on their home computers. Id. Based upon this evidence, the court found that it was reasonable to believe that the photographs would be found in the defendant's home. Id.
Of course, in the Rhode Island case, there likely was no similar attachment, and as far as I know, there was no evidence that Byrne was a child molester as opposed to a mere voyeur. Thus, the judge's decision seems reasonable to me. I wonder, however, whether most courts, if presented with the "common habit" evidence like the Wisconsin court, would come to the same conclusion and allow the search of a home based upon photographs taken by a defendant at his business.