Sunday, October 28, 2018

Case o' The Week: Herring gone bad - Henderson and Unlawful NIT Child Porn Searches


Thousands of illegal Federal hacking searches, across the United States.
  All salvaged with a Herring aid.



United States v. Henderson, 2018 WL 5260851 (9th Cir. Oct. 23, 2018), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge O’Scannlain, joined by Judge Bea and DJ. Hard fought appeal (with e.b. petition on way) by ND Cal AFPD Hanni Fakhoury.

Facts: The FBI seized and operated a child porn server called “Playpen.” Id. at *1-*2. The Feds obtained a Network Investigative Technique (“NIT”) warrant from an ED Va. magistrate judge. Id. That warrant allowed the search of a computer, wherever located, if it was logged into Playpen. Id.
  ND Cal resident Henderson accessed child porn on Playpen. Id. After he was charged with child porn offenses, Henderson moved to suppress evidence seized pursuant to the “NIT” warrant. Id. at *3.
  The motion was denied, Henderson was convicted, and appealed.

Issue(s): “Henderson argues that the motion to suppress should have been granted because the NIT warrant was issued in violation of [Fed. R. Crim. Pro.] 41(b), which authorizes magistrate judges to issue warrants subject to certain requirements. To prevail . . . Henderson must show both that the NIT warrant did violate Rule 41(b) and that suppression is the appropriate remedy for such violation.” Id. at *4.
   “[W]e must decide whether evidence that was obtained pursuant to a warrant that authorized a search of computers located outside the issuing magistrate judge’s district must be suppressed.” Id. at *1. 
  “If the (Herring “good faith”) exception may apply in cases where an officer relied on a valid warrant which had been revoked or a warrant which never existed, may the exception apply where the officer relied on a warrant subsequently recognized as void due to the issuing judge’s jurisdictional violation?” Id. at *8.

Held: “[T]he NIT mechanism is not a ‘tracking device’ within the meaning of . . . Rule . . . 41(b)(4). . . . [T]he NIT warrant violated Rule 41(b) by authorizing a search outside of the issuing magistrate judge’s territorial authority.” Id. at *4. “[ ] Rule 41(b) is not merely a technical venue rule, but rather is essential to the magistrate judge’s authority to act in this case.” Id. at *5. “Without any other source of law that purports to authorize the action of the magistrate judge here, the magistrate judge . . . exceeded the scope of her authority and her jurisdiction . . . .” Id. “[A] warrant purportedly authorizing a search beyond the jurisdiction of the issuing magistrate judge is void under the Fourth Amendment. We . . . conclude that the Rule 41 violation was a fundamental, constitutional error.” Id. at *7.
  “Application of the good faith exception is permitted where a warrant is void because of a magistrate judge’s jurisdictional violation, so long as the executing officers had an objectively reasonable belief that the warrant was valid. We are unconvinced by Henderson’s argument otherwise, and we are satisfied that the good faith exception may apply to warrants that are void ab initio.” Id. at *8. “[T]he NIT warrant falls squarely within the Leon good faith exception: the executing officers exercised objectively reasonable reliance on the NIT warrant, and the marginal or nonexistent benefits produced by suppressing evidence ... cannot justify the substantial costs of exclusion.” Id. at *9.  

Of Note: The old Rule 41(b) -- in place when this search took place -- clearly didn’t authorize this warrant. In fact, it so clearly didn't authorize this warrant that in 2016 Congress had to change the rule to permit these searches. 
  Many child porn defendants throughout the country are now serving many decades of custody, based on convictions arising from these patently unlawful ED Va. NIT searches. The Feds’ alarming (and unlawful) NIT hack illustrates the injustices that arise when “good faith” draws the teeth of suppression remedies. 
  Something to Fourth Amendment fans to mull, with new Supreme Court majorities in play. See Orin Kerr article here

How to Use: Fourth gurus beware: Judge O’Scannlain pens what appears to be a rule of first impression in the Ninth. Leon / Herring “good faith” can salvage a warrant, even it is invalid ab initio. Id. at *8.
                                               
For Further Reading: Henderson refuses to suppress the evidence seized from unlawful domestic hacking by the FBI.
   For a troubling account of this unprecedented investigation, see a great EFF series of posts, here








Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. Website at www.ndcalfpd.org

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