Argument Preview: Considering whether the Fourth Amendment requires a temporal limitation for a search in United States v. Richards, No. 16-0727/AF
CAAF will hear oral argument in the Air Force case of United States v. Richards, No. 16-0727/AF (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, at 1 p.m. The court will hear argument on one issue challenging the validity of a search authorization as overbroad (an Ortiz trailer issue won’t be argued):
I. Whether the panel of AFCCA that heard appellant’s case was improperly constituted.
II. Whether the 9 November 2011 search authorization was overbroad in failing to limit the dates of the communications being searched, and if so, whether the error was harmless.
Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) Richards was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of possession of child pornography and committing indecent acts with children under the age of 16 in violation of Article 134, and of four specifications of failing to obey a lawful order in violation of Article 92. The military judge sentenced Richards confinement for 17 years and a dismissal. In a lengthy opinion the CCA affirmed the findings and the sentence.
The charges arose after a former participant in a Big Brothers of America program alleged sexual assault by Richards some years earlier. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) began an investigation that revealed evidence of an ongoing sexual relationship with another minor and involving electronic communications. That evidence supported a search authorization “to conduct a search to obtain ‘all electronic media and power cords for devices cable of transmitting or storing online communications.'” App. Br. at 7. Numerous devices were seized and searched by digital forensic analysis, eventually leading to the discovery of “thousands of images of child pornography.” Gov’t Div. Br. at 8.
At trial Richards moved to suppress the child pornography and derivative evidence “on several grounds, including that the search authorization was overbroad.” Gov’t Div. Br. at 9. The military judge denied the motion, concluding that the authorization was not overbroad and also that the good faith exception would apply even if it were overbroad. Richards renewed this claim at the Air Force CCA, where it was also rejected. He now takes the claim to CAAF to determine:
whether the Fourth Amendment requires a search authorization to include a temporal limitation when that information was available and known to law enforcement at the time the authorization was requested.
App. Br. at 17.