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The Utah Supreme Court has upheld an Emery County man's conviction on charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, rejecting his argument that the use of technology that led to the discovery of child pornography on his laptop was an illegal search.
In a 5-0 decision handed down Tuesday, the justices said Daniel Roberts, 35, had no expectation of privacy in files that he publicly shared on a peer-to-peer (P2P) network. The high court also said the use of the Wyoming Toolkit software that identifies files containing child pornography that are being freely shared in P2P databases did not constitute a search.
The toolkit enabled officers with the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force to recognize files associated with child pornography, according to the court's decision, but "it did not allow the government to access private information on Mr. Roberts' computer."
"It therefore did not invade a constitutionally protected private space," the court concluded.
The Utah attorney general's office, which investigated and prosecuted the case, applauded the decision.
"Today's affirmation from the Supreme Court is not only a victory for this case, but for many in the future where we use similar investigative tools," Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a written statement.
Roberts came to ICAC's attention in 2009, when the task force determined that an IP address in Emery County had used P2P network Gnutella to share hundreds of files with suspected child pornography in a five-month period, according to court documents. After confirming the files contained child pornography, an FBI agent served a subpoena on an Internet service provider that identified Roberts, of Huntington, as the owner of the IP address, the documents say.
Armed with a search warrant, authorities seized Roberts' laptop and an examiner at a computer forensic lab found video and still images of child pornography on it, the documents say. Roberts was charged with 30 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony.
Before trial, his defense attorney made a motion, among others, to throw out the evidence of child pornography found on the laptop, arguing that the search was illegal. The motion was denied by 7th District Judge Douglas Thomas.
Roberts then entered into a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to five counts, on condition that he could appeal the search and other issues. The other 25 counts were dismissed and Roberts was sentenced to concurrent terms of one to 15 years behind bars. The prison time was suspended and he was placed on 36 months of probation, including 240 days in county jail.
Roberts then appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the district court rulings, including one denying a challenge to the use of an administrative subpoena to obtain subscriber information from the Internet service provider.