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7th Cir. Tosses Man's Arson Conviction, Waffles on Lying Charge

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 18, 2015 5:59 AM

The Seventh Circuit overturned a lower court's conviction of a man who was found guilty of arson, but remanded the case with regards to lying to the FBI during the investigation.

Fortunately for the defendant, continued law enforcement officer (LEO) searches of his business went beyond the scope and purpose of the search, underscoring again the very blurry region of "fruit of poisonous tree" and the "purged taint."

2013 Sentence for Lying to the FBI

In March of 2013, a federal judge sentenced Feras Rahman to two and half years in federal prison despite the fact that a jury had found him not guilty of arson. The court based his lengthy sentence on a finding that he had lied to the FBI when the investigators' discovery of a computer didn't square with Rahman's story of where the PC should have been.

Prosecutors presented the story of Rahman starting the fire in a classic insurance fraud scheme with plans to start another business elsewhere. They also accused him of lying to the FBI when he told them he thought his laptop and business records were at the restaurant when it fact the computer was at his home.

Beyond the Scope

Rahman's attorney argued that the evidence later found in the burned rubble of Rahman's business should be suppressed. The lower court disagreed. But the circuit court agreed with the defense and said that Rahman's initial consent to search set out a limited scope and purpose: investigators were there to find the cause of the fire, not to search out computers records.

By the time authorities left, the basement where the computer was later found had already been ruled out as a potential origin of the fire. The exclusionary rule triumphed in Rahman's favor.

Back So Soon?

The Seventh Circuit has remanded the case back to prosecutors who have to decide whether or not to expend the effort to retry Rahman on the lying charge. This time, however, the state will have to proceed without the benefit of the evidence that had been seized when LEO went back down to conduct more searches.

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