Category Archives: Forensics

Cell Phone Spying Is Unlawful

Image result for mobile spy software

In State v. Novick, The WA Court of Appeals Division II held the Defendant committed Computer Trespass in the First Degree when he installed “Mobile Spy” software on the victim’s cell phone and sent commands to activate the recording feature of the program in order to intentionally record the victim’s private communications.

David Novick and Lisa Maunu began dating in December 2013. Novick bought her a new mobile phone on March 11, 2014, and set it up for her. Unbeknownst to Maunu, Novick installed an application called Mobile Spy on Maunu’s new phone. The application allowed a person to log onto the Mobile Spy website and monitor the phone on which the application was installed.

From the Mobile Spy website, a user could access all the information stored on the monitored phone, including text messages, call logs, and e-mails. The versions of Mobile Spy software also permitted a user to send commands to the targetted phone from a “live control panel” on the website. One such command allowed a user to activate the phone’s microphone and recording features and record audio into a file that could then be downloaded from the website.

Eventually, Novick was caught after his girlfriend Maunu became suspicious. In short, Maunu became concerned because Novick expressed specific knowledge about Maunu’s health conditions, medications, doctors’ appointments, and private conversations.

With the assistance of Novick’s employer, it was discovered that Novick had downloaded over 500 audio files from Mobile Spy, searched for GPS (global positioning system) locations, and searched for particular telephone numbers.

The State charged Novick with eight counts of Computer Trespass in the First degree and eight counts of Recording Private Communications based on Novick’s use of Mobile Spy to record Maunu’s conversations. At trial, Novick was convicted on all charges.

Novick appealed on arguments that (1) the State failed to provide sufficient evidence that he intentionally recorded a private communication, and (2) entry of eight convictions of each crime violated his right against double jeopardy because the correct unit of prosecution covers the entire course of conduct.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals disagree with Novick and affirmed his convictions.

  1. THE PROSECUTION SHOWED SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE OF COMPUTER TRESPASS FIRST DEGREE.
First, the Court explained that Computer Trespass in the First Degree occurs when a person intentionally gains access without authorization to a computer system or electronic database of another and the access is made with the intent to commit another crime. The Court further reasoned that here, the underlying crime was Recording Private Communications. A person commits the crime of recording private communications when he intercepts or records private communications transmitted by any device designed to record and/or transmit said communications.
Second, the Court reasoned that a forensic review of Novick’s computer activity revealed that he intentionally logged into Mobile Spy’s webiste and sent commands from the website to Maunu’s phone. Also, Novick’s computer records showed that he visited the live control panel on Mobile Spy’s website, downloaded audio files collected from Maunu’s phone and intentionally recorded Maunu’s private communications.
Accordingly, the Court held that the State presented sufficient evidence that Novick committed the crime of Recording Private Communications, and with that, committed Computer Trespass First Degree.
2. NO EVIDENCE OF DOUBLE JEOPARDY.
Next, the Court rejected arguments that Novick’s multiple convictions for Computer Trespass and Recording Private Communications violated the prohibition against Double Jeopardy because the correct unit of prosecution for each crime covers the entire course of Novick’s conduct.
The Court began by saying the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no “person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Similarly, article I, section 9 of the Washington Constitution says, “No person shall . . . be twice put in jeopardy for the same offense.” In short, explained the Court, these double jeopardy provisions prohibit multiple convictions for the same offense.
Furthermore, when a defendant is convicted for violating one statute multiple times, the proper inquiry is, “What unit of prosecution has the Legislature intended as the punishable act under the specific criminal statute?” The Court explained that in order to determine whether there is a double jeopardy violation, the question becomes “what act or course of conduct has the Legislature defined as the punishable act?” Consequently, the scope of the criminal act as defined by the legislature is considered the unit of prosecution.
The Court explained that the first step is to analyze the statute in question. If the statute does not plainly define the unit of prosecution, we next examine the legislative history to discern legislative intent. Finally, a factual analysis is conducted to determine if, under the facts of the specific case, more than one unit of prosecution is present.
Ultimately, the Court was not persuaded by Novick’s “plain language of the statute” argument the if the legislature intended a single unit of prosecution based on a course of conduct, it could have said so plainly.
“What matters is not what the legislature did not say, but what it did say,” said the Court. “The plain language of the statutes support the conclusion that the units of prosecution . . . are each separate unauthorized access and each recording of a conversation without consent.” The Court further reasoned that while Novick’s actions were somewhat repetitious, they were not continuous:
“On at least eight separate and distinct times, Novick logged onto Mobile Spy’s website, accessed Maunu’s phone by issuing a command through the live control panel, and downloaded at least eight different recordings of conversations between Maunu and various other people. Each access was separated by time and reflected a separate intent to record a separate conversation.”
The Court concluded that the State proved that Novick intentionally recorded eight private communications. Additionally, Novick’s actions constituted multiple units of prosecution, and therefore, his multiple convictions did not violate double jeopardy principles. Thus, the Court affirmed Novick’s convictions.
My opinion? On the one hand, it’s shocking that citizens can be convicted of felonies by accessing mainstream computer software. Shouldn’t the software itself be outlawed instead? On the other hand, I see how parents can legally using the same software to track their minor children’s whereabouts, conversations and activities. That type of activity os not illegal.
This case presents a very good example of an atypical computer crime. We see that Computer Trespass First Degree is very similar to standard Burglary charges in that the State must prove the Defendant intends to commit a crime once they gain access to the victim’s computer system or electronic database. Recording Private Communications is a crime.  Therefore, if a defendant records private communications after gaining access, they can be found guilty of Computer Trespass in the First Degree. Simple.
Computer crime cases require experts and/or lay witnesses who are competent in discussing these matters. Speaking for the defense, it’s usually best to hire experts familiar with computer forensics to determine if/when the said access was unlawful and/or intentional. Again, the State must prove intent.

Corpus Delicti & Murder Confessions

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In State v. Young, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided the defendant’s confession to murder was properly admitted because the State presented ample independent evidence of (1) the fact of death, and (2) a causal connection between the death and a criminal act.

On the morning of July 4, 2013, John Young entered the Desert Food Mart in Benton City and asked the cashier to call 911 because he had witnessed a shooting of a man named Jacob. Police were summoned. As the investigation proceeded, Mr. Young became a suspect. He was brought in for questioning, and consented to audio and video recording of an interview.

During the interview, an officer read Mr. Young Miranda warnings and obtained his agreement that he understood he was now a suspect and any statements he made could be used against him. Mr. Young then confessed that Jacob was involved in a drug deal gone wrong. With the assistance of an accomplice named Joshua Hunt,  Mr. Young admitted he fired one shot into Jacob’s head near the temple-cheek region, killing him.

Mr. Young also confessed that he and Mr. Hunt disposed of their shoes and gun by putting the items into a backpack and throwing the backpack into a river. Later, police recovered the shoes and gun.  The shoes matched footprints and shoe patterns that had been found in the sand near Jacob’s body. The Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory determined that all of the bullets recovered from the crime scene had been fired from the Charter pistol found in the backpack.

Mr. Young was charged with first degree murder.

During a 3.5 hearing, Young’s attorney lawyer stipulated to the admission of the videotaped interview, telling the court:

“We believe it’s in our interests to actually stipulate to the 3.5 hearing, and I’ve discussed that with Mr. Young, and I know the Court will make its own inquiries, but he knows and understands he has a right to that hearing, but we believe it’s in our benefit and strategic interest to proceed with the stipulation.”

The court questioned Mr. Young, who stated he understood he had a right to a hearing on the admissibility of the statements but was agreeing instead that all of his statements were admissible.

During trial, Mr. Young’s videotaped confession was played for the jury. At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Mr. Young appeals.

Mr. Young argued his defense counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by stipulating to the admission of Mr. Young’s confession when there was no independent evidence apart from his confession, under the corpus delecti rule, sufficient to establish all the elements of first degree murder.

For those who don’t know, corpus delicti is a term from Western jurisprudence referring to the principle that a crime must be proved to have occurred before a person can be convicted of committing that crime.

The Court of Appeals rejected Young’s arguments. It reasoned that in a homicide case, the corpus delecti generally consists of two elements: (1) the fact of death, and (2) a causal connection between the death and a criminal act. It can be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence, which need not be enough to support a conviction or send the case to the jury. In assessing whether there is sufficient evidence of the corpus delicti independent of a defendant’s statements, the Court assumes the truth of the State’s evidence and all reasonable inferences from it in a light most favorable to the State.

Here, the corpus of the crime of murder was amply established by (1) a dead person; (2) multiple gunshot wounds that established a casual connection with a criminal act; (3) testimony eliminating the possibility of self-inflicted wounds; and (4) the recovery of the weapon miles away from the dead body.

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that the State is not required to present independent evidence of the defendant’s mental state. It reasoned the State is not required to present independent evidence sufficient to demonstrate anything other than the fact of death and a causal connection between the death and a criminal act.

Finally, the Court rejected Mr. Young’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel:

“It appears from his closing argument that Mr. Young’s trial lawyer believed his client’s videotaped interview would advance that argument. Mr. Young fails to demonstrate that his trial lawyer lacked a strategic reason for the stipulation.”

With that, the Court of Appeals confirmed Mr. Young’s conviction.

My opinion? This case represents a fairly straightforward analysis of the corpus delicti defense. I’ve had great success when it applies, and have managed to get many criminal charges reduced or dismissed under this defense. However, the corpus delicti defense is extremely narrow. Aside from the defendant’s confession, there must be virtually NO independent evidence connecting the defendant to the crime. Here, other evidence existed which implicated Mr. Young and the defense was found inapplicable.

Recorded Arguments & Privacy.

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In State v. Smith, the WA Court of Appeals Division II held that an accidentally recorded argument between the defendant and his wife was improperly admitted at trial and violated the Washington Privacy Act.

John and Sheryl were a married couple. On June 2, 2013, they were in their residence drinking. They became intoxicated and began to argue. John began to beat and strangle Sheryl, who lost consciousness due to the strangling. Sometime during the attack, John used the residence’s landline telephone to try to locate his cell phone. Unable to do so, he was unaware that his actions activated his cell phone’s voice mail function, which started recording part of the dispute. In that recording, John is heard yelling insults at Sheryl. Sheryl responded to these statements by screaming unintelligibly or asking him to stop or leave her alone. At one point during the recording, Sheryl tells John to “Get away,” to which he responds, “No way. I will kill you.”

Shortly after the voice mail was recorded, John left the residence. Sheryl called 911 and reported that John had beaten her. A police officer with the Vancouver Police Department arrived at the residence, and Sheryl was transported to the hospital. John’s cell phone was retrieved and taken by the police. John was later arrested and charged with first degree attempted murder (domestic violence), second degree attempted murder (domestic violence), first degree assault (domestic violence), and second degree assault (domestic violence). Before trial, John moved to suppress the cell phone voice mail recording based on RCW 9.73.030, which applies to intercepting, recording and/or the divulging of private communications under the WA Privacy Act. The trial court held a CrR 3.6 hearing and denied his motion.

At John’s bench trial, the recorded voice mail, 911 phone calls, and photographs of Sheryl’s injuries were admitted into evidence. The trial court found John guilty of second degree attempted murder and second degree assault, both with domestic violence enhancements.

John appealed on three issues: (1) whether the recorded voice mail’s contents are a conversation; (2) if the contents are a conversation, whether it was private; and (3) if a private conversation, whether it was recorded or intercepted.

For the following reasons, the Court held that John recorded a private conversation in violation of RCW 9.73.030.

1. DID A CONVERSATION TAKE PLACE?

Amidst screaming from Sheryl, the following communications took place:

John: “You think you’re bleeding?. . . . You’re the most fucked up person. Give me back the phone.”

Sheryl: “Get away.”

John: “No way. I will kill you.”

Sheryl: “I know.”

John: “Did you want to kill me? Give me back my phone.”

Sheryl: “No. Leave me alone.”

The Court reasoned that the contents of the recorded voice mail constituted a conversation. Although Sheryl’s screams alone would not constitute a conversation, these screams were responsive to statements that John was making to Sheryl and were scattered throughout the entire dispute, which contained repeated verbal exchanges between the two individuals as outlined above. Within this context, Sheryl’s screams serve as an expression of sentiments responsive to John’s yelling and thus constitute part of a conversation.

2. WAS THE CONVERSATION PRIVATE?

The Court held that the conversation was private. Here, a domestic dispute occurred between two married persons in the privacy of their home. It reasoned that the location of the conversation, the relationship between the parties, and the absence of third parties all declare the privacy of the conversation. Therefore, reasoned the Court, John had a “subjective intention and reasonable expectation that the conversation with Sheryl would be private.”

3. IF THE CONVERSATION WAS PRIVATE, WAS IT RECORDED OR INTERCEPTED?

The Court held that the WA Privacy Act was violated when John accidentally recorded a private conversation without Sheryl’s consent. It reasoned that the WA Privacy Act requires the consent of all parties to a private conversation. Further, the case law has implied that no third party is required to record a conversation. In other words, a party to a private conversation can also be the person who impermissibly records the conversation. Thus, reasoned the Court, John’s recording of this conversation can violate the privacy act, even though he accidentally made himself a party to it.

Based on the above, the Court reversed and remanded the second degree attempted murder conviction, but affirmed the second degree assault conviction.

My opinion? Although my sympathies go out to the victim, the Court’s decision was correct. Privacy is a mysterious subject matter in our ever-changing world. Cell phones and other devices allow us to record anything, any time, anywhere. The fact is, most of us don’t know even know we’re even being recorded in our daily lives. So you can imagine a scenario where accidental recordings become the subject for intense litigation.

Many clients ask me if recorded conversations between themselves and alleged victims/witnesses are admissible at trial. Clearly, the answer is “No” under the WA Privacy Act unless the participants are (1) aware that their conversation is being recorded, and (2) expressly consent to the recording. Interesting stuff. This case was a good decision upholding our privacy rights in the face of today’s technological advancements.

“Voodoo Science” Debunked

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Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal written Alex Kozinski , a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals since 1985, discusses how the U.S. has relied on flawed forensic evidence techniques for decades, resulting in false convictions.

According to Judge Kozinski, the White House released a report that fundamentally changes the way many criminal trials are conducted. The new study from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) examines the scientific validity of forensic-evidence techniques—DNA, fingerprint, bitemark, firearm, footwear and hair analysis. It concludes that virtually all of these methods are flawed, some irredeemably so.

The study indicates that only the most basic form of DNA analysis is scientifically reliable. Some forensic methods have significant error rates and others are rank guesswork. “The prospects of developing bitemark analysis into a scientifically valid method” are low, according to the report. In plain terms, says Judge Kozinski, “Bitemark analysis is about as reliable as astrology.” Yet many unfortunate defendants languish in prison based on bad science.

Even more disturbing, the article states that forensic scientists – who are often members of the prosecution team – sometimes see their job as helping to get a conviction. This can lead them to fabricate evidence or commit perjury, says Judge Kozinski. Many forensic examiners are poorly trained and supervised. They sometimes overstate the strength of their conclusions by claiming that the risk of error is “vanishingly small,” “essentially zero,” or “microscopic.” The report calls such claims “scientifically indefensible,” but jurors generally take them as gospel when presented by government witnesses who are certified as scientific experts.

Apparently, problems with forensic evidence have plagued the criminal-justice system for years.

The PCAST report recommends developing standards for validating forensic methods, training forensic examiners and making forensic labs independent of police and prosecutors. “All should be swiftly implemented,” says Judge Kozinski, who adds that preventing the incarceration and execution of innocent persons is as good a use of tax dollars as any:

“Among the more than 2.2 million inmates in U.S. prisons and jails, countless may have been convicted using unreliable or fabricated forensic science. The U.S. has an abiding and unfulfilled moral obligation to free citizens who were imprisoned by such questionable means. If your son or daughter, sibling or cousin, best friend or spouse, was the victim of voodoo science, you would expect no less.”

My opinion? Jurors rely HEAVILY on forensic evidence in their deliberations. And it makes sense: it’s a huge task to weigh evidence and sift through the rhetoric of arguments from the prosecution and defense. Cold, hard, quantifiable and scientific facts make it easy for jurors to render decisions.

Consequently, the information from this report is both good and bad news. It’s good because the truth about  “voodoo science” in the courtroom has finally surfaced to the mainstream. It’s bad because hundreds, if not thousands of innocent people are convicted of crimes and serve years in prison based on unreliable evidence for crimes they didn’t commit.

Fortunately, there’s hope. According to Judge Kozinski, the report “provides a road map for defense lawyers to challenge prosecution experts.” Excellent.

Competent attorneys should immediately gain an understanding of challenging prosecution experts who bring voodoo science in the courtroom. It’s the only way to shed light on this grim subject and bring justice to our courts.

FBI DNA Database Error

Here is a letter from the WA State Crime Lab outlining some errors that have been discovered in the FBI DNA database that was used by the lab when “estimating the significance of having included an individual as a possible contributor to a forensic DNA typing profile.”

The Federal DNA Database Unit (FDDU) analyzes DNA markers from buccal and blood samples of federal convicted offenders, arrestees facing federal charges, individuals convicted of certain District of Columbia offenses, as well as non-U.S. citizens detained under the authority of the United States of America, for development of DNA profiles that are uploaded to the National DNA Index System (NDIS).

The FBI does not believe the errors will materially affect any assessment of evidence. Although the WA State Crime Lab agrees, it also acknowledges that “some probabilities will be slightly stronger while some others will be slightly weaker.”   They have updated the databases as of June 3, 2015 and any case files completed before this scheduled for trial or that are subject to discovery or public disclosure will have the probability estimates recalculated.  Only if there is a difference greater than 10-fold will  an amended report be issued.

My opinion? Many of us believe DNA evidence is SO foolproof. And for the most part, when calculated correctly, it is. However, errors like these to our system of justice. Jurors, victims, defendants, Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys heavily rely on DNA evidence to prove whether the defendant actually committed the alleged crime. The evidence is excruciatingly important to cold-case murders and sex offenses. Please, WA State Crime Lab, test and retest your samples when updating the database!

Study: Youth Tolerance Of Marijuana May Increase Chances of DUI

Study offers support for the notion of e-cigarettes as a gateway drug

A new study from the journal Pediatrics suggests ways to reduce the risk that children will drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs as teenagers.

The study found that 12-year-old children who believed marijuana could help them relax or was otherwise beneficial were more likely to drive under the influence when they were 16. The study also showed these minors were also significantly more likely to ride with someone else who was buzzed, drunk or high behind the wheel.

“Youth view marijuana use as less dangerous than drinking,” the study authors wrote. “We must begin to address how changing views of marijuana might increase risk for not only marijuana use, but other behaviors.”

Driving under the influence is common among American teenagers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10% of high school students do so in any given month, and more than 20% have been passengers of someone driving under the influence.

So researchers from Rand Corp. in Santa Monica and Arlington, Va., went looking for risk factors in middle school that could predict these dangerous behaviors in high school. They turned to data from a substance use prevention program called CHOICE that was tested in 16 middle schools in greater Los Angeles.

The Rand researchers focused on 1,124 students who completed detailed surveys in 2009 (when their average age was 12.2 years old), 2011 (when their average age was 14.3) and 2013 (when their average age was 16.3 and 88% were eligible to drive in California). The majority of these students (57%) were girls, and half were Latino.

Using statistical models to control for the students’ age, gender, race and ethnicity, school and whether their mothers had graduated from high school, the researchers identified several factors that seemed to predict unsafe driving at age 16.

According to the study, those who held more tolerant ideas about marijuana when they were 12 (in sixth or seventh grade) were 63% more likely than their peers to admit either driving under the influence themselves or to ride with someone who was under the influence

Additionally, 12-year-olds who felt most confident that they could resist marijuana use wound up being 89% more likely to mix alcohol and drugs with cars, motorcycles or other vehicles. This finding surprised the researchers, they wrote.

By the time the students were 14, some of the risk factors had changed. Those who said they had used alcohol in the last month were more than twice as likely as their peers to drive under the influence or ride with an intoxicated driver two years later.

Also, those whose friends used marijuana were 2.4 times more likely to be involved in unsafe driving later, and those whose family members used marijuana were 54% more likely to do the same.

And positive beliefs about marijuana still mattered — 14-year-olds who had them were still 67% more likely to mix alcohol, drugs and motor vehicles at age 16.

The researchers noted that marijuana has taken on a benign image among middle schoolers “as medical and recreational marijuana legalization increases in our country, adolescents are becoming more accepting of marijuana use,” they wrote. “This highlights the need to address these types of beliefs as early as sixth grade.”

My opinion? If these studies are accurate, they merely reveal our need to EDUCATE our youth about drugs, alcohol and vehicles. In short, DRUGS/ALCOHOL AND VEHICLES DON’T MIX. It doesn’t matter what type of drug you’re taking; whether it be prescription, medical marijuana or street drugs. Don’t do drugs and drive. And it doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you’re drinking. Don’t drink and drive.  If your doctor informs you that taking your prescription medication may affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle, then please think twice about operating a motor vehicle.

I’ve assisted many clients facing DUI charges of varying degrees. However, studies like this show that society is becoming less tolerant and sympathetic toward individuals charged with DUI. It takes a very competent and experienced defense attorney to reveal the science, forensics and idiosyncrasies of DUI litigation in today’s anti-drug climate. Please consult a qualified attorney if you’re facing DUI charges.

State v. Martines: WA Supreme Court Finds Defendant Guilty of DUI on Blood Test Case

Bad news.

In State v. Martines, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the WA Court of Appeals Division I. I blogged about this case last year in State v. Martines: More Good Caselaw on Blood tests Taken After DUI Arrests. There, the WA Court of Appeals version of State v. Martines held that the blood test performed on Martines was an unlawful warrantless search. The Court of Appeals also reasoned that drawing blood and testing blood constitute separate searches, each of which requires particular authorization, and that the warrant here authorized only a blood draw.

The original Martines opinion appeared strong. It was rooted in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely; which requires police officers to obtain search warrants for blood draws in DUI cases when exigent circumstances do not otherwise exist. It also followed Washington State legalizing marijuana, thus necessitating stronger regulations and monitoring of blood tests performed during DUI investigations.

The WA Supreme Court decided differently in a short, scathing opinion signed by all justices.

First, the Court held that a warrant authorizing the testing of a blood sample for intoxicants does not require separate findings of probable cause to suspect drug and alcohol use so long as there is probable cause to suspect intoxication that may be caused by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

Second, the Court  further held that the search warrant lawfully authorized testing Martines’s blood sample for intoxicants because it authorized a blood draw to obtain evidence of DUI. In other words, the search of Martines’s blood did not exceed the bounds of the search warrant when a sample of Martines’s blood was extracted and tested for intoxicants anyway.

My opinion?

Bad decision. I’m amazed the WA Supremes didn’t discuss Missouri v. McNeely at all. Not once. McNeely profoundly and significantly evolved search and seizure law concerning blood draws in DUI investigations. Indeed, McNeely was the underpinnings for Division One Court of Appeals case State v. Martinez. Yet the WA Supremes ignore McNeely as if it didn’t exist. Ignoring case precedents violates stare decisis, plain and simple.

Hopefully, this case gets appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for further review.

 

State v. Peppin: No Privacy for Public File Sharing

In State v. Peppin, the WA Court of Appeals ruled law enforcement’s warrantless use of enhanced  peer to peer file sharing software to remotely access shared files on an individual’s computer does not violate either the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution or article I, sec. 7 of the Washington Constitution.

In other words, an individual does not have a constitutionally protected privacy right in image files he shares with the public.

Here, defendant Casey Peppin was found guilty of three counts of Possession of Depictions of Minors Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct in the First Degree under RCW 9.68A.670. On December 29,2011, Spokane Detective Brian Cestnik conducted an online investigation of the Gnutella network to identify persons possessing and sharing child pornography. Using peer to peer software called “Round Up” version 1.5.3, Detective Cestnik found child pornography on Mr. Peppin’s computer in a shared folder. He obtained a warrant, searched he defendant’s home and recovered the computer(s) allegedly used to view and share images of minors engaged in sexual conduct.

BACKGROUND ON “PEER TO PEER FILE SHARING”

For those who don’t know, “peer to peer file sharing” is a method of Internet communication that allows users to share digital files. User computers link together to form a network; the network allows direct transfer of shared files from one user to another. Peer to peer software applications allow users to set up and share files on the network with others using compatible peer to peer software. For instance, LimeWire and Shareaza are software applications that allow users to share files over the Gnutella network.

To gain access to shared files, a user must first download peer to peer software, which can be found on the Internet. Then, the user opens the peer to peer software on his or her computer and conducts a keyword search for files that are currently being shared on the network. The results are displayed and the user selects a file for download.

The downloaded file is transferred through a direct connection between the computer wishing to share the file and the user’s computer requesting the file. The Gnutella network gives users the ability to see a list of all files that are available for sharing on a particular computer.

F or example, a person interested in obtaining child pornographic images opens the peer to peer software application on his or her computer and conducts a file search using keyword terms such as “preteen sex.” The search is sent out over the network of computers to those using compatible peer to peer software. The results of the search are returned and displayed on the user’s computer. The user selects the file he or she wishes to download. The file is then downloaded directly from the host computer onto the user’s computer. The downloaded file is stored on the user’s computer until moved or deleted.

A peer to peer file transfer is assisted by reference to an Internet Protocol (IP) address. In general, the numeric IP address is unique to a particular computer during an online Internet session. The IP address provides a location, making it possible for data to be transferred between computers.

This is where the police work comes in: investigators can search public records on the Internet to determine which Internet provider is assigned the IP address. Investigators can contact the Internet provider and gain information about the user based on the IP address assigned to the computer.

THE INVESTIGATIONS

Here, Detective Cestnik searched the Gnutella network for “pthc,” the commonly used term for preteen hard core Internet pornography. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 17. The results indicated that images matching the search terms could be found on a host computer with an IP address linked to Spokane. Detective Cestnik’s check of the IP address through two different Internet search engines confirmed that the IP address was in Spokane and that Qwest Communications was the provider.

Next, Detective Cestnik presented Qwest Communications with a search warrant requesting information on the IP address for the host computer. Qwest Communications advised Detective Cestnik that the IP address was connected to Mr. Peppin and provided Mr. Peppin’s address.

Detective Cestnik then obtained a search warrant for Mr. Peppin’s computer. A complete forensic investigation uncovered over 100 videos of what appeared to be minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

TRIAL OUTCOME

Mr. Peppin moved to suppress the computer files downloaded by Detective Cestnik during his Internet search. He maintained that law enforcement’s access and download of his computer files via the Internet was an intrusion into his private affairs and an unlawful warrantless search. The court denied Peppin’s motions to suppress. At trial, he was found guilty on all 3 counts.

COURT OF APPEALS DECISION

The legal issue addressed by the court was whether Mr. Peppin had a constitutionally protected privacy right in the image files he shared with the public. In short, the Court said, “No.”

First, federal circuit courts have consistently held that a person who installs and uses file sharing software does not have a reasonable expectation ofprivacy in the files to be shared on his or her computer.

Second, even the broader protection of the Washington State Constitution also does not offer any relief to Mr. Peppin. It stated, “What is voluntarily exposed to the general public and observable without the use of enhancement devices from an unprotected area is not considered part of a person’s private affairs.” The court emphasized that here, Mr. Peppin voluntarily offered public access to the computer files obtained by Detective Cestnik. Mr. Peppin used peer to peer software to make these shared files available without restriction. Anyone wanting to view or download the files could do so. Law enforcement’s access of these files was not an intrusion into Mr. Peppin’s private affairs.

The court summed it up:

Additionally, this is not the type of information that a citizen of this state is entitled to hold as private. The inherent nature of peer to peer software is the public sharing of digital computer files. Individuals using file sharing software cannot expect a privacy interest in files they hold open to the public. Again, Mr. Peppin’s use of peer to peer file sharing voluntarily opened this information to the public for anyone to access, including law enforcement. There is no disturbance of a person’s private affairs when law enforcement accesses shared computer files that the person holds publically available for viewing and download. Thus, there is no violation within the context of article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution.

My opinion? Although I understand the logic – as well as the government’s desire to criminalize the sexual exploitation of minors – at what point does “private” communications end and “public” communications begin? How intrusive is the government’s technology? How often do they use the internet to spy on citizens for public safety reasons? I suppose we’ll see . . .

Ignition Devices In All New Cars ?

There’s developing technology exploring the possibility that a fingerprint-based ignition interlock device system may someday be installed in new vehicles in the hopes of stopping impaired drivers from operating their vehicles.In other words, sobriety tests in all new cars might prevent most drunk driving deaths.

Installing devices in new cars to prevent drunk drivers from starting the engine could prevent 85 percent of alcohol-related deaths on U.S. roads, saving tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars from injury-related costs, according to a new analysis.

“Alcohol interlocks are used very effectively in all 50 states as a component of sentencing or as a condition for having a license reinstated after DUIs, but this only works for the drunk drivers caught by police and it doesn’t catch the people who choose to drive without a license to avoid having the interlock installed,” said lead author Dr. Patrick Carter, an emergency physician with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.

Most drunk drivers make about 80 trips under the influence before they are stopped for a DUI, Carter said. “If we decided that every new car should have an alcohol ignition interlock that’s seamless to use for the driver and doesn’t take any time or effort, we suddenly have a way to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries that doesn’t rely solely on police.”

Carter and colleagues used U.S. records of traffic accidents and fatalities to determine how many involved drunk driving and then estimated how many of these incidents could be avoided in the future by fitting new cars with alcohol-interlock devices, which detect blood-alcohol levels and prevent drivers above a certain threshold from starting the car.

Then, they estimated the numbers of deaths and injuries that could be prevented in the first year that all new cars sold had screening systems, and assumed it would take 15 years for older models to be replaced with new vehicles.

Over the 15-year implementation period, interlocks may eliminate about $343 billion in costs from fatalities and injuries related to drunk driving, the researchers estimate. Assuming the device costs $400 per vehicle and is 100 percent accurate, the interlock would pay for itself after three years by way of avoided injury costs.

Getting DADSS into all vehicles can eliminate the element of chance involved in catching drunk drivers under our current system that relies on police, said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Unlike the alcohol ignition interlocks which require you to blow into a devise and are used for convicted drunk drivers, DADSS is a driver assist system that would be seamless, take less than half a second, and use infrared light to measure a driver’s blood alcohol content in the breath or through the fingertips, which is believed to be far more reliable.

My opinion? Although noble, these devices may cause legal problems and litigation than they’re worth. How accurate are the devices? Are they calibrated regularly? Do they store information which can be used against a defendant accused of DUI? Would the devices also test for the presence of drugs? If so, what if the driver has a prescription for the drugs? Only time will tell . . .

State v. Samalia: Search of Abandoned Cell Phone is Lawful

In State v. Samalia, the WA Court of Appeals upheld the defendant’s conviction for Possession of a Stolen Motor Vehicle under RCW 9A.56.068 because the police used evidence from the defendant’s cell phone found in the abandoned stolen vehicle after he fled from the vehicle and evaded pursuit.

Yakima Police Officer Ryan Yates was on patrol when his vehicle license plate reader indicated he had passed a stolen vehicle. The officer followed the stolen vehicle. The driver got out of the vehicle and faced towards Officer Yates. The driver would not obey Officer Yates’ command to get back in the vehicle and fled. Officer Yates pursued the male driver but he got away.

Officer Yates searched the car and found a cell phone in the center console. Officer Yates conducted some investigations and discovered that the phone belonged to the defendant Mr. Samilia. Later, Officer Yates located Mr. Samalia’s picture in a police database. Officer Yates then identified Mr. Samalia from the database picture as the fleeing man who had been driving the stolen vehicle.

The State charged Mr. Samalia with possession of a stolen motor vehicle. He moved unsuccessfully to suppress the cell phone evidence under ER 3.6. From the above facts, the trial court concluded the cell phone was abandoned, therefore, Mr. Samalia no longer had an expectation of privacy in it. Following a bench trial, the court found Mr. Sam alia guilty as charged. He appealed.

The court reasoned that a warrantless search and/or seizure violates the WA Constitution unless it falls under one of ”’a few jealously guarded exceptions” to the warrant requirement. Searching voluntarily abandoned property is an exception to the warrant requirement. In other words, law enforcement may retrieve and search voluntarily abandoned property without a warrant or probable cause.

The court also considered the status of the area where the cell phone was located. Here, the search area was an unattended stolen vehicle that Mr. Samalia had been driving and had fled from when a police officer approached and directed him to return to the vehicle. Consequently, the court found that a suspect’s hasty flight under these circumstances is sufficient evidence of an intent to abandon the vehicle. In conclusion, because the cell phone was abandoned; used in pursuit of the fleeing suspect, and not directly used to identify Mr. Samalia, the court held that the trial court did not err in denying suppression of Mr. Samalia’s identification from a police database.

My opinion?

I disagree with the court’s decision. This decision is too great a leap in the wrong direction; and fails to follow Washington’s current jurisprudence. Despite the Court’s reasoning, there is NO reported Washington decision which has directly addressed whether a citizen relinquishes his reasonable expectation of privacy in the data on his cell phone by leaving the phone behind at the scene of a crime.

Our jurisprudence says police must generally secure a warrant before conducting a search of data on a cell phone – even one that has been left behind in a place where its owner has no privacy interest. Requiring a search warrant will assure that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant is involved in criminal activity and that evidence of the criminal activity can be found in the data on the cell phone.