Argument Preview: An appellate-stage argument to suppress the fruits of a search might turn on good faith, in United States v. Smith
CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Smith, No. 18-0211/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, January 22, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. The first of two cases to be argued that day (both involving the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule), Smith involves an appellate-stage challenge to the admission of the fruits of a search of electronic devices.
CAAF granted review of two issues:
I. Whether the military judge abused her discretion in denying a defense motion to suppress evidence obtained from Appellant’s cellular telephone because access to the contents of the iPhone would not have been available but for the government’s illegal search and the good faith doctrine would be inapplicable under the circumstances.
II. Whether the Army Court of Criminal Appeals erred in deeming the insufficient nexus issue waived because there was no deliberate decision not to present a ground for potential relief but instead only a failure to succinctly articulate the grounds upon which relief was sought.
Warrant Officer One (W01) Smith was convicted of two specifications of indecent recording in violation of Article 120c(a) (2012) and sentenced to confinement for two months and a dishonorable discharge. The allegations arose after a young woman saw Smith take a photograph under her dress using an iPhone. She sounded the alarm, Smith was quickly apprehended, and the iPhone was seized. Military investigators then sought authorization to search the iPhone and also to seize and search any other Apple product in Smith’s residence under the theory that the iPhone could synchronize with the other devices. The authorization was granted, several other devices were seized, and all of the devices were sent for examination.
The examination found no incriminating evidence on the devices seized from Smith’s home, and the examiners were initially unable to access the iPhone because it was locked. But because Smith previously synced his iPhone with one of his other devices, the investigators were able to use that prior connection to access the iPhone. After doing that, they discovered incriminating videos on the iPhone. Smith’s defense counsel moved to suppress the videos, arguing that the iPhone was unlawfully seized (at the time of the woman’s complaint) and that the search authorization of the iPhone was not supported by probable cause. The motion was overruled, the videos were admitted, and Smith was convicted.
On appeal, Smith renewed his objection to the admission of the videos, but with a new argument: that the search of the devices from his home – that made it possible to search the iPhone – lacked probable cause. The argument was based on CAAF’s opinion in United States v. Nieto, 76 M.J. 101 (C.A.A.F. Feb. 21, 2017) (CAAFlog case page), part of the #7 Military Justice Story of 2017, and claimed an insufficient nexus between Smith’s phone and other devices. The Army CCA refused to consider Smith’s new argument and also concluded that the good faith exception applied (while noting that the military judge also determined that the inevitable discovery doctrine applied).
CAAF then granted review of two issues that embody a plethora of questions about the trial and appellate proceedings. The first issue presumes that the search of the devices seized from Smith’s home was unlawful (something no court has said), it presumes that the incriminating videos on Smith’s iPhone would never have been discovered but-for the search of the other devices (a question of technological capabilities), and it challenges the application of the good faith exception under the facts of this case. The second granted issue challenges the Army CCA’s refusal to consider Smith’s new suppression argument based on Nieto, and it suggests that the argument isn’t so much new as it is just a clarification of the trial stage objection that was not succinctly articulated.
It’s a complicated case that is made even more complicated by the briefs, because Smith offers a second new basis for suppression (that investigators exceeded the scope of the search authorization) and the Army Government Appellate Division makes numerous concessions.