Deactivated email still can be searched; Court rules in child pornography case

March 5, 2012 12:01 am

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A Pennsylvania Superior Court panel has found the deactivation of an email account does not discount probable cause that the Internet service provider will keep information on the account that can be seized under warrant.

In the case of a man convicted of possession and transfer of child pornography, Judge Judith F. Olson said the man's appeal to suppress evidence obtained using search warrants is meritless because of the nature of the evidence and the crime.

"In today's day and age, we cannot agree that the closure of a computer account negates probable cause to search the digital files of an Internet service provider," Judge Olson wrote for the court in Commonwealth v. Hoppert.

She also ruled that a change of home address does not discount probable cause that evidence of a crime such as possession of child pornography will be found at the new address.

Clyde Hoppert was convicted of 19 counts of disseminating child pornography and two counts of possessing child pornography in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas. He appealed the decision on the grounds that the information used to obtain two search warrants, one for access to America Online documents and one for access to his personal home, was stale and the evidence seized under these warrants should be suppressed.

However, Judge Olson upheld the decision, citing the Superior Court's ruling last year in Commonwealth v. Janda, which stated the court must "examine the nature of the crime and the type of evidence" when determining if information used to obtain a search warrant is stale. It was therefore not unreasonable for authorities to assume America Online would still possess information related to Mr. Hoppert's activities several months after the account was closed, she said.

She cited as well the court's 2006 decision in Commonwealth v. Gomolekoff, in which the court "determined that pedophiles rarely dispose of child pornography because it is illegal and difficult to obtain." Therefore, it did not exceed probable cause to assume that evidence of possession of child porn could be found on Mr. Hoppert's computer, even after a change of address.

The Lancaster County District Attorney's Office began investigating Mr. Hoppert in 2008 when a child pornography investigation in California found emails containing pornographic images of children that had been sent from an America Online account registered under his former address and the name of his wife.

First Published 2012-03-04 23:17:17

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