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8th Circuit Applies Common Sense Rule to Child Porn Search Case

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on June 26, 2013 4:01 PM

Dennis Chase appealed his case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals after being convicted of three counts of transportation and three counts of possession of child pornography.

Among his claims made on appeal, Chase argued that the district court improperly denied his motion to suppress because there was insufficient probable cause to support the initial warrant to search his residence.

The case revisits the "common sense" rules on probable cause for warrants to search homes when it comes to criminal activity like child pornography.

The Nexus Rule for Search Warrants

For a search warrant to be valid, there needs to be a nexus between the alleged criminal activity and the defendant's residence. In this case, Chase argues specifically that the warrant failed to establish a nexus between the items to be seized -- child pornography -- and the location to be searched, Chase's residence.

But the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument because of common sense regarding where child pornography is typically found.

Citing United States v. Hyer, the court explained "[t]he observation that images of child pornography are likely to be hoarded by persons interested in those materials in the privacy of their homes is supported by common sense and the cases." This "common sense approach" to establishing a nexus to trigger probable cause is used outside of the context of child pornography, too.

In State v. Yarbrough, for example, the Court of Appeals of Minnesota reversed and remanded the lower court's decision after the appeals court applied the "common sense" approach to the nexus requirement. The lower court found a lack of nexus between the respondent's crime involving a gun and his residence. But the appeals court reversed, holding that it was "common sense and reasonable to infer that respondent would keep the gun at his residence."

Since common sense and prior cases support the inference that people who possess and/or transport child pornography are likely to keep (or in the court's unceremonious language, "hoard") child pornography in the privacy of their homes, the nexus requirement is met, according to the Eighth Circuit.

The court ruled the warrant established a nexus between the pornography to be seized and the location to be searched (defendant's home). Accordingly, the search warrant is supported by probable cause.

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