Opinion Analysis: Images in unallocated space and a cache (along with other facts) are sufficient to sustain a conviction for viewing child pornography, in United States v. King
CAAF decided the Air Force case of United States v. King, 78 M.J. 218, No. 18-0288/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Friday, January 4, 2019. Emphasizing the ability of prosecutors to prove guilt with circumstantial evidence, the court finds that a conviction of viewing child pornography is legally sufficient even though computer forensics could not conclusively prove that the images were knowingly viewed.
Chief Judge Stucky writes for a unanimous court.
Airman First Class (E-3) King was convicted contrary to his pleas of not guilty, by a general court-martial composed of a military judge alone, of one specification of attempting to view child pornography, one specification of viewing child pornography, and one specification of violating a general regulation. He was sentenced to confinement for nine months, reduction to E-1, and a dishonorable discharge. The Air Force CCA summarily affirmed the convictions.
The evidence against King included an admission by King that he searched for and looked at naked images of young girls, and it also included the results of a forensic examination of King’s electronic devices that revealed thousands of offensive images and three specific images of child pornography. Those three images were found on King’s home computer, but in hard-to-access places: two were found in a web browser’s cache (a storage location to make repeat browsing faster) and one was found in unallocated space (likely meaning that it was a deleted item). King was convicted of knowingly and wrongfully viewing those three specific images, and CAAF granted review of a single issue challenging the sufficiency of that conviction in light of the location of the images:
The military judge found Appellant guilty of viewing child pornography. But all of the alleged child pornography appellant allegedly viewed was found in unallocated space or a Google cache. Is the evidence legally sufficient?
CAAF finds the evidence legally sufficient, but Chief Judge Stucky’s opinion begins with the caveat that it does so, “given the very low threshold required to sustain a conviction for legal sufficiency.” Slip op. at 1.