Stearns County District Court File No. 73-CR-11-1267
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and
Janelle P. Kendall, Stearns County Attorney, Michael J. Lieberg, Assistant County Attorney, St. Cloud, Minnesota (for respondent)
David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Lydia Villalva Lijó, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Rodenberg, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Harten, Judge. [*]
1. A person does not retain a reasonable expectation of privacy in data on a computer hard drive after seizure of the drive pursuant to a valid search warrant authorizing a search for that data, and thus subsequent forensic analysis of the hard drive to obtain the data identified in the warrant is not a Fourth Amendment search requiring a new warrant.
2. Although not bound by a sentencing agreement made by the state and a defendant before a trial under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4, a district court may exercise its discretion to sentence a defendant in accordance with such an agreement.
On appeal from his conviction of five counts of possessing a pornographic work involving minors, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 617.247, subd. 4(a) (2008), following a trial on stipulated evidence conducted pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4, appellant argues that (1) the evidence discovered as a result of the forensic analysis of his computer hard drive should have been suppressed and (2) the district court failed to exercise its discretion by not considering a downward dispositional departure. We affirm.
In May 2009, a special agent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) obtained and executed a search warrant authorizing the search of appellant Christopher James Johnson's residence for evidence that appellant was involved in the possession and distribution of child pornography. The warrant specifically authorized the seizure of
[c]omputer systems including, but not limited to: the main computer box, hard drives, monitors, scanners, printers, modems and/or other peripheral devices . . . [and d]ata contained on either hard drives or removable media to include: deleted files and e-mail files that may show the receipt, possession, and/or distribution of child pornography; chat line logs that may identify children being enticed online; or data that reveals the distribution of child pornography.
The warrant directed the BCA to "search for the above-described property and things, and to seize said property and things and to retain them in custody subject to court order and according to law." It is undisputed that the warrant was duly issued by a judge based upon probable cause shown in the warrant application.
During execution of the warrant in May 2009, a computer hard drive was seized from appellant's residence. In December 2009, forensic analysis of the data on the hard drive resulted in the discovery of child pornography. Appellant was charged with six counts of possession of child pornography in violation of Minn. Stat. § 617.247, subd. 4(a) (2008).
At an omnibus hearing, appellant moved to suppress the evidence resulting from the December 2009 forensic analysis, arguing that it amounted to a warrantless search. The ...