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United States v. Stetkiw

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 3, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Bradley A. Stetkiw, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING STETKIW'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE OBTAINED OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF THE SEARCH WARRANT [ECF No. 20]

          Victoria A. Roberts United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Bradley Stetkiw's (“Stetkiw”) Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained Outside the Scope of the Search Warrant. For the reasons explained, the Court DENIES the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) initially focused an investigation on Stetkiw's Bitcoin exchange service. The Government obtained a search warrant which authorized a computer search for image and data files. While searching Stetkiw's computer, HSI Special Agent William Osborn discovered one image of child pornography. He immediately stopped the computer search and obtained a search warrant for child pornography. With that warrant, the Government discovered additional images of child pornography.

         The Government charged Stetkiw with violations of: 18 U.S.C. § 2252A for receipt and possession of child pornography; 18 U.S.C. §§ 1960 and 2 for operating an unlicensed Bitcoin exchange service; and 18 U.S.C. §§ 2253 and 982 for criminal forfeiture.

         Stetkiw filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained Outside the Scope of the Search Warrant and requested an evidentiary hearing.

         MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE AND RESPONSE

         Stetkiw seeks to suppress child pornography evidence derived from the computer search. He argues that Agent Osborn's computer search for image files was unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment. He says the Leon good-faith exception is inapplicable because Agent Osborn failed to use techniques like Optimal Character Recognition (“OCR”) to narrow the search. OCR scans images for letters or numbers; if used, Stetkiw argues the examiner could have narrowed the search to only images with specific letters or numbers. OCR is not protocol for HSI investigations.

         The Government argues that the search warrant and accompanying affidavit established probable cause to search image files. The Government says the plain view doctrine and the Leon good-faith exception require the Court to deny suppression.

         ANALYSIS

         I. THE FOURTH AMENDMENT AND COMPUTER SEARCHES

         The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states “. . . no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. A search or seizure must satisfy traditional reasonableness standards by balancing an individual's privacy interests against legitimate governmental interests. Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295, 300 (1999).

         In 2014, the Supreme Court required officers to secure search warrants for cell phones because “they hold for many Americans ‘the privacy of life.'” Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 403 (2014) (quoting Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 630 (1886)). Unlike home searches, searches of electronic devices offer less predictable, specific, and discrete regions to search. Orin S. Kerr, Searches and Seizures in a Digital World, 119 Harv. L. Rev. 531, 538 (2005).

         The Sixth Circuit held that “a computer search may be as extensive as reasonably required to locate items described in the warrant based on probable cause.” United States v. Richards, 659 F.3d 527, 538 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing United States v. Burgess, 576 F.3d 1078, 1092 (10th Cir. 2009)). Indeed, the Court held that if “the computer search is limited to a search for evidence explicitly authorized in the warrant, it is reasonable for the executing officer to open various types of files located in the computer's hard drive to determine whether they contain such evidence.” Id. at 540.

         A search warrant for computers satisfies the Fourth Amendment particularity requirement if it is limited to a specific federal crime or specific material. United States v. Riccardi, 405 F.3d 852, 862 (10th Cir. 2005). See, e.g., United States v. Ulbricht, 858 F.3d 71, 101 (2d Cir. 2017), cert. denied 138 S.Ct. 2708 (2018); United States v. Wong, 334 F.3d 831, 837-38 (9th Cir. 2003).

         II. THE SEARCH WARRANT WAS PARTICULAR

         Attachment B to the search warrant authorized agents to seize evidence related to Stetkiw's alleged violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1960. The search warrant authorized a seizure of “stored records or information that is otherwise called for by this warrant” (ECF No. 20-2, PageID.78). The warrant defines “records” and “information” as “all forms of creation or storage, including . . . photographic form” (ECF No. 20-2, PageID.80). During the evidentiary hearing, HSI Special ...


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