Part II: How the Courts Address or Respect Our Rights as Citizens – Presentationjuhnioh
COURTS AND CITIZENS’ RIGHTS 5
How the Courts Respect Citizens’ Rights
How the Courts Respect Citizens’ Rights: People State of Illinois v. McCavitt
The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits law enforcement agencies from fishing around in people’s electronic devices, searching for evidence to prove a crime. Police officers must have a search warrant specifying the machine and evidence to be searched. A civil rights case between the People State of Illinois and McCavitt was filed to determine the limits on law enforcement agencies to search a person’s electronic device under a search warrant. In 2013, the Illinois State Police obtained a search warrant to search John McCavitt’s home and seize his computer. They later received another warrant to search the computer for evidence of sexual offenses. The evidence obtained was used to charge McCavitt with two counts of sexual crimes in 2014. However, McCavitt was acquitted on both charges and requested a copy of his hard drive from the police.
The police conducted another search for evidence of other crimes against McCavitt without a new warrant. They found images of child pornography, obtained a search warrant to search for more pictures, and successfully convicted McCavitt of possession of child pornography. McCavitt appealed that the police officers unlawfully searched the information on his hard drive without a new warrant. The Illinois Appellate Court agreed, and the State appealed to the Illinois Supreme court.
People of the State of Illinois (Plaintiff) v. John McCavitt (Defendant), 2019 IL APP (3d) 170830
Facts of the Case
John McCavitt, a former Peoria police officer, was charged with 17 cases of child pornography based on evidence obtained from his hard drive. McCavitt filed a motion arguing that the search of his hard drive was unlawful since the law enforcement officers did not get a new warrant after failing to convict him of sexual offenses in the previous search. The jury found McCavitt guilty of 15 counts of child pornography, and the trial court sentenced him on 11 counts to five years in prison, probation, and mandatory supervised release ("Illinois Official Reports", 2020). McCavitt raised three issues on appeal and argued that he was denied his rights to substantive due process, a speedy trial, and effective assistance of counsel.
History of the Case
On July 17, 2013, the Illinois State Police obtained a search warrant to search McCavitt’s home. The warrant authorized the law enforcement officers to seizure any electronic device in search of evidence relating to sexual offenses committed by the defendant. The officers seized McCavitt’s computer. On July 24, 2013, the law enforcement officers sought and obtained another search warrant authorizing them to search McCavitt’s computer for any digital images and aggravated criminal sexual assault evidence ("Illinois Official Reports", 2020). Detective Jeff Avery, a sheriff, and forensic examiner, examined McCavitt’s computer, removed the hard drive, and made an exact copy of it using EnCase software and stored it in the detective’s computer. McCavitt was charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault and was not found guilty of all the charges. The law enforcement officers initiated another investigation involving a forensic analysis of the Encase file stored on Avery’s computer. James Feehan, a computer forensics examiner, saw two images of child pornography, which led to McCavitt’s arrest based on unauthorized video recording. Feehan sought and obtained a search warrant to search McCavitt’s EnCase file searching for child pornography images. McCavitt was charged with seven counts of aggravated child pornography, a class 2 felony, and three counts of child pornography. McCavitt filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the forensic examiner had no authority to obtain and examine the contents of the EnCase file. Feehan asserted that he did not need a search warrant to get the Encase file because McCavitt’s computer was previously seized under a lawful search warrant. McCavitt was found guilty of 15 counts of child pornography. The trial court sentenced McCavitt to five years in prison on one count and mandatory supervised release of three years to life. The defendant was also sentenced to 48months probation on the remaining ten counts.
1. Whether McCavitt’s substantive due process rights were violated
2. Whether McCavitt was denied his right to a speedy trial
3. Whether McCavitt received ineffective assistance of counsel
Decision or Holdings
McCavitt’s right to substantive due process was not violated. According to Greenberg & Page (2018), Congress and States foster respect to human rights through constitutional and statutory provisions that protect individuals against privacy violations in financial and health data areas. However, states like Illinois have explicit provisions relating to privacy rights, such as protection from unreasonable searches and seizures for electronic data. The statute recognizes that a person has heightened privacy in the restroom (McCaffrey, 2018). However, the defendant did not expect privacy since his EnCase file was seized under a valid warrant. A person’s expectation of privacy is reduced once an item has been lawfully seized and searched, and ensuing searches may be conducted without a warrant as long as the things remain in police custody.
The second decision is that McCavitt’s right to a speedy trial was upheld. In Illinois, a criminal defendant has both a constitutional and a statutory right to a speedy trial with 120 days of being taken into custody unless the defendant causes delays (Ahmed, Munir, & Khan, 2020). The defendant caused the delay in the trial from February 15 to April 4 following his request to change from a jury to a bench trial.
McCavitt received effective counsel. Ineffective assistance of counsel is given where counsel provided representation that fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and prejudiced the defendant.
Verdict and Opinion
The court concluded that the search and seizure of McCavitt’s EnCase file were reasonable because he had reduced expectations of privacy in the hard drive’s content after it was seized, copied, and searched previously using a valid warrant. The detective also suspended his search of pornographic images until he obtained a new search warrant. Dissenting opinions from the appellate court held that the circuit court should have granted McCavitt a motion to suppress. They also held that the defendant’s expectations of privacy reset once he was acquitted of sexual assault. Hence, the police were not entitled to retain any portion of the copy once the first trial ended.
The case implied that a person retains a privacy interest in their electronic data, whether stored in the original hard drive or the EnCase replica. The ruling in the case emphasized the importance of limiting the scope of a digital search. The state had no authority to retain the data to initiate another search for an entirely different investigation, at least not without finding a probable cause and obtaining a warrant. Permitting law enforcement agencies to exploit search and seizure doctrine beyond the scope of a valid warrant risk authorizing any search of digital information to unreasonable searches.
Ahmed, N., Munir, B., & Khan, N. A. (2020). An Assessment of Right to Fair Trial Under the. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bakht-Munir-2/publication/350324071_22_an-assessment-of-right-to-fair-trial-under-the-constitution-of-pakistan-1973-a-comparative-study-of-the-us-and-pakistan/links/6059fbdb92851cd8ce6185a4/22-an-assessment-of-right-to-fair-trial-under-the-constitution-of-pakistan-1973-a-comparative-study-of-the-us-and-pakistan.pdf
Greenberg, E. S & Page, B. I. (2018). The Struggle for Democracy, 2018 Elections and Updates Edition. (12th ed.). Pearson)
Illinois Official Reports. (2020). Retrieved August 14 2021, from https://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Resources/085b16f8-8ef7-473f-b9d1-0e08b1e00370/3170830.pdf
McCaffrey, J. (2018). Fourth Amendment Protections in Common Areas of Apartment Buildings. Retrieved August 14 2021, from https://www.illinoislawreview.org/print/vol-2018-no-3/fourth-amendment-protections-in-common-areas-of-apartment-buildings/