Warrant for phone was specific enough for search in addition to seizure


Sarah, 15 years old, lived with her grandmother, siblings, and her adult cousin, Robert Moore. One morning, Sarah got up to use the bathroom and Moore called out to her. When Sarah entered his room, he blocked her from leaving, physically threatened her, and had sex with her.

He also took various sexual explicit naked pictures of her during this incident. Sarah eventually told the school resource officer who called police. Biloxi P.D. interviewed her and learned that Moore had used a black LG TracFone to photograph the crime.

The day before, Moore had been arrested for an unrelated charge and was in custody at the Harrison County Jail. Among the items on Moore’s person when he was arrested was a black LG phone matching Sarah’s description. The investigator obtained a search warrant for the phone, which was located in Moore’s property bag at the jail.

Included in the underlying facts and circumstances was Sarah’s statement that Moore photographed her with his cellular phone during the assault. After retrieving the phone, the investigator turned it on and scrolled through the stored pictures, immediately finding the photographs Sarah had described. Moore was then arrested for this crime.

Two months later, the investigator obtained a second search warrant—this one expressly authorizing him to search and download any and all electronic data, including photographs, stored on the LG phone. Moore was convicted of sexual battery and exploitation of a child and was sentenced to 20 years.

On appeal, he argued the first warrant—the one to search his phone located in the Harrison County Jail—only authorized the investigator to retrieve the phone, not turn it on and search through the pictures. Consequently, he argues, the pictures were inadmissible fruit of the poisonous tree. MCOA affirmed.


A.  Search warrant of phone

This court faced an analogous claim in Magee. There, the defendant had been arrested for armed robbery. A similar nearby robbery had occurred weeks earlier, and in that case, police had recovered DNA evidence. The officer filled out a form search warrant similar to the one used for Moore’s phone. This warrant identified the Poplarville jail as the place to be searched, “Jay Magee” as the person in control of that place, and “D.N.A. in any and all forms” as the items to be seized.

Magee claimed the warrant only allowed for a search of his jail cell for DNA—not for the invasion of his body to take a DNA swab. We rejected Magee’s hyper technical characterization of the warrant because it was evident from the affidavit supporting the search warrant that the warrant was sought to seize DNA evidence from Magee.

We find the same to be true here. The affidavit supporting the search warrant for Moore’s phone was clear. The device was being sought because it contained photographic evidence of the sexual battery of Sarah. Thus, we find the warrant was specific enough to authorize not just the physical seizure of the device but also the search of the photo library on the device.

B.  Good faith

Even if we had determined the search warrant was invalid, we would still have admitted the phone through good faith in this case.

If a police officer reasonably relied on a search warrant, which was later proven to be invalid, he acted in good faith. And the good-faith exception prevents the evidence found from being excluded. Here, we find it clear from his affidavit that the investigator in this case sought a warrant to search the photographs on Moore’s phone for evidence of the alleged sexual assault.

Also the investigator testified he believed he was acting under this warrant when he powered up the phone and searched its photo library. Because we find the investigator acted reasonably, we agree with the circuit judge that there was no reason to exclude the photographs found on the phone.