Child pornography search warrant was not too general when describing items to be searched and seized


Bryan David Edwards was charged with distribution and receipt of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2) and (b)(1), and possession of child pornography involving a prepubescent minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B) and (b)(2). Evidence leading to his indictment was seized during execution of a search warrant authorizing officers to enter a specified residence and “seize and forensically analyze property including but not limited to: electronic devices, computers, tablets, cellular telephones, laptop computers, desktop computers, and digital memory storage devices used in storage, dissemination or viewing of explicit images in violation of Texas Penal Code § 43.262”.

Edwards moved to suppress evidence discovered during execution of the search warrant. The court denied his suppression motion; and he entered a conditional guilty plea to the possession count, reserving the right to appeal the adverse suppression ruling.

Edwards asserts the search warrant was impermissibly general because it did not specify the parts of his cellular telephone that could be searched or limit the types of property that could be seized; and, because the warrant lacked precision, a reasonable officer would have known it was invalid, meaning the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule should not have applied. The 5th affirmed.


Generally, when the sufficiency of a search warrant is challenged, we first determine whether the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies. See Contreras. For the good-faith exception to apply, the executing-officer’s reliance on the issuing judge’s probable cause determination and the technical sufficiency of the warrant must have been objectively reasonable. See Gibbs.  An officer’s reliance on a warrant is not objectively reasonable where, inter alia, the warrant authorizing the officer’s actions is so “facially deficient” in failing to particularize the place to be searched or the things to be seized that the executing officers cannot reasonably presume it to be valid.  See Mays.

Despite the “including but not limited to” language in the warrant, it provided a list of items usually expected to be used to view, store, or disseminate child pornography, therefore linking the items to be seized and searched with the suspected criminal offense. See United States v. Layne, 43 F.3d 127 (5th Cir. 1995) (holding warrants directing seizure of assorted pornographic videotapes; assorted pornographic magazines; assorted devices and child pornography; records of victims; drawings; pictures; computer disks, sexual devices; videotapes; child abuse books; magazines; audiotapes; and any other obscene or child pornographic material were sufficiently particular).

Moreover, the warrant explained these items were evidence of the commission of the offense of possession of child pornography as described in the accompanying affidavit. See Triplett – concluding terms such as “electronic devices” or “electronic memory devices” were sufficiently particular where warrant also provided limiting guidance that items were relevant. That the warrant could have been more grammatically correct and specific did not render it so “facially deficient” that the officers could not reasonably presume it was valid. And because the court correctly determined the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied, it is unnecessary to consider Edwards’ assertion the warrant was impermissibly general.

The court denied a Franks hearing on the grounds the alleged omissions were immaterial, meaning they did not affect the probable-cause determination. Edwards contends the affidavit should have listed general information about Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, including that IP addresses do not specify a user or device, can be secured or open, and can be spoofed or copied. He also maintains the affidavit should have mentioned whether he lived alone or with others; and included additional steps that law enforcement could have taken, such as subpoenaing the electronic-service provider for more information.

The affidavit contained sufficient information giving rise to a fair probability that someone in Edwards’ household uploaded child pornography to Tumblr, the online blogging platform. Probable cause does not demand more than a fair probability on which a reasonable person would act. Although the omitted information may have introduced the possibility that someone other than Edwards could have committed the offense, it did not affect the connection between the Tumblr account that uploaded the child pornography, Edwards’ IP address, and his physical address. See Perez – holding probable cause existed based on connection between transmission of child pornography, defendant’s IP address, and defendant’s physical address.

Accordingly, the court did not err by denying a Franks hearing on the basis that Edwards failed to make a preliminary showing the omitted information was material to the probable-cause determination