Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, December 17, 2007

King: No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Shared Computer Files

In U.S. v. King, No. 07-11808 (Dec. 14, 2007), the Court rejected Fourth Amendment challenges to a computer search of a defendant convicted of possessing child pornography, and, ruling against the government’s sentencing appeal, affirmed the district court’s ruling that King’s contemporaneous conviction for transporting child pornography did not count as a "prior conviction" for the purpose of imposing a mandatory ten years’ sentence.
The defendant’s computer flies at an army base were "shared" over the entire base network, and everyone on the network had access to all his files and could observe them. Thus, the search of his computer was akin to a search of the entire network. The contents of his computer were akin to items stored in the unsecured common areas of a multi-unit apartment building or put in a dumpster accessible to the public, and King therefore had no reasonable expectation of privacy in them.
Turning to the sentencing issue, the Court noted that the child pornography statute provides for a ten-year mandatory minimum if the defendant has a "prior conviction under this chapter." King’s convictions for possessing and for transporting child pornography were entered at the same time. The Court concluded therefore that the transporting conviction did not qualify as a "prior" conviction – distinguishing Deal v. U.S..