Thursday, May 06, 2010

Administrative Subpoena to Yahoo! Poses No Fourth Amendment Problem

US v. Bynum: Federal officers searched Bynum's home (he was living with his parents), pursuant to a warrant, following the investigation of a Yahoo! group to which Bynum had uploaded child pornography. A subsequent search of Bynum's laptop uncovered numerous pieces of child pornography, including those uploaded to the Yahoo! group. Three years later, he was charged with three counts of transporting child pornography and one count of possession. Prior to trial, Bynum unsuccessfully sought to suppress both the evidence uncovered during the search and the testimony of a Government expert on whether the images at issue involved actual children or were computer generated. He was convicted on all counts and sentenced to 192 months in prison.

On appeal, Bynum challenged both his conviction and sentence, which the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Bynum raised two Fourth Amendment challenges. First, he argued that the Government's use of administrative subpoenas - about which he had no knowledge - to identify him from his postings on the Yahoo! group violated the Fourth Amendment. The court disagreed, holding that Bynum had no expectation of privacy in that sort of information as it was stored by third parties to whom he had voluntarily conveyed it. Second, Bynum argued that the search warrant for his home was not based on sufficient probable cause due to discrepancies in the dates it alleged the files were uploaded and the passage of time (six months) between the uploads and the search. The court disagreed, holding that the difference in dates were "minor" and, even if they were not, the warrant was not so bare bones to be relied upon in good faith.

Bynum also made two evidentiary challenges to his trial. First, he argued that the Government offered insufficient evidence that he, rather than someone else in the home, actually uploaded the files and as to whether the images depicted real children. The court disagreed, applying the deferential standard applicable to sufficiency challenges, and concluded that a rational fact finder could have convicted Bynum. Second, Bynum argued that the district court erred by allowing the Government's expert on the nature of the images to testify because he did not show the reliability of his methods. The court found no error, likening the expertise at issue with expert testimony about "drug-code testimony" and sufficiently reliable.

Finally, the court rejected Bynum's argument that his middle of the Guidelines sentence was substantively unreasonable.

Two interesting side notes. First, this case marks the first time when I've seen a defendant's screen name and email address used as "aka"s in the case name. Second, for a story of a Government "expert" on child porn going all wrong (until the happy ending), see here.

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