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South Dakota Supremes and internet child porn

While I don’t practice criminal law today’s decision by the South Dakota Supreme Court may be of interest. Basically, the Court said the existence of temporary internet files of child porn on a computer are sufficient to justify a search warrant for the PC and the office in which it was located.

In the case, there were problems with the defendant’s work computer, owned by his employer. A techie called in to service it “found dozens of suggestive and suspicious graphic file names such as ‘hot boys’ and ‘teen boys.'” The tech reported it to the police pursuant to a state statute requiring any commercial computer repair technician to report to law enforcement if, in the scope of their employemnt, he or she observes any visual depictions of a minor engaged in prohibited sexual acts or the simulation of prohibited sexual acts. A warrant to search the computer and the office it was in was issued but the defendant got the evidence obtained suppressed on the basis the detective who got the warrant didn’t sufficiently explain that these were temporary internet files that could have come from pop up ads.

The Supreme Court said the evidence should not have been suppressed. A key factor was that the case presented the narrow issue of whether a warrant should be issued, not whether someone had in fact committed the crime of knowingly possessing child porn. As a result, all that needed to be considered was “whether the presence of dozens of images of child pornography in the temporary internet file folders on Helland’s computer, as attested to in the [police] affidavit, constituted sufficient probable cause to conclude that there was a fair probability that the crime of possession of child pornography had been committed and that the search of Helland’s computer and office would reveal evidence of the crime.”

As I say, I do not practice criminal law but the Court’s distinction seems correct. What actually struck me about the opinion was the language quoted below. I’m sure anybody as shocked as the tech would, of course, just have to look for more.


Shocked and in disbelief about what he was seeing, [the computer tech] began opening other files that contained similarly disturbing images.

State v. Helland, 2005 SD 121

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