CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Eugene, No. 18-0209/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Wednesday, September 12, 2018, at 3 p.m., at the Keenan Ceremonial Courtroom, 500 Pearl Street, New York. The court granted review of two issues involving consent to a search:
I. Whether Appellant’s request to Criminal Investigation Command (CID) that his cell phone be returned was a withdrawal of the third party consent to search given by Appellant’s wife in Appellant’s absence.
II. Whether the Army Court erred in determining the applicability of the inevitable discovery doctrine where (1) the CID agents failed to take any steps to obtain a warrant and (2) the case took a “dead-end” until the warrantless search.
A general court-martial composed of a military judge alone convicted Private First Class (E-3) Eugene, contrary to his pleas of not guilty, of two specifications of attempted viewing of child pornography and four specifications of attempted sexual abuse of a child, all in violation of Article 80, UCMJ. The military judge sentenced Eugene to confinement for 26 months, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge.
The convictions were based on evidence discovered on Eugene’s cell phone by his wife. Eugene allowed his wife to use his phone, and he left the device with her while he was away conducting field exercises on June 1, 2015. On June 2, 2015, Eugene’s wife used the device and discovered communications between Eugene and other women, some of whom identified themselves as minors. Eugene’s wife then contacted military authorities and authorized them to seize and search the phone. Military investigators conducted a limited, electronic search of the device, but found no evidence. Three days later, on June 5, 2015, they interrogated Eugene and he admitted to exchanging communications with underage girls. At the end of the interrogation, Eugene asked the investigators to return his phone but they did not return it. Instead, military investigators sent the phone for a more detailed electronic search. That search occurred five months later, on November 9, 2015, and yielded incriminating evidence. At no point, however, did the investigators obtain a military search authorization or a civilian search warrant.
Eugene’s defense counsel moved to suppress the fruits of the second search at trial, arguing that the investigators were required to obtain an authorization or warrant. The military judge denied the motion, ruling that Eugene’s wife consented to both the seizure of the phone and its subsequent search, and that Eugene’s request that the phone be returned was at most only a revocation of his wife’s consent to seize the phone. The Army CCA affirmed, finding that Eugene’s request that investigators return his phone was “merely an attempt to regain control over his personal property for personal convenience.” United States v. Eugene, No. 20160483, slip op. at 6 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 28, 2018). The CCA also found that the inevitable discovery doctrine applies because there was “overwhelming probable cause” and the lead investigator “would have contacted a military magistrate to get a search authorization if he believed he did not have consent.” Id. slip op. at 8.
CAAF then granted review of both of the CCA’s findings.