The United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has contradicted a lower court’s decision to deny an evidence suppression motion put forth by the defense. In a sexual misconduct case that accused Private First Class Morales of multiple Article 120 and Article 120c violations, the defense argued a search of the defendant’s cellphone was unjustified because the investigators lacked probable cause. The military judge presiding over the case denied the defense’s motion, but a three-judge panel of the CCA would later find that as erroneous.
The details of the case involve Morales allegedly touching a female soldier – called only AC to maintain privacy – inappropriately while giving her a massage in the confines of her home. The alleged groping victim gave transcripts of text messages between herself and Morales to military investigators. She also claimed that Morales had illegally obtained and kept a lewd photo of herself on his cellphone or perhaps his private computer. It was this allegation that prompted investigators to seize and search his electronic devices.
TRANSPARENCY IN INVESTIGATIONS IS CRITICAL
With a cursory glance, it might seem that the CCA would have reversed the lower court’s decision and cited an error along the lines of a violation of Morales’ privacy. However, this is not the reason why the CCA reached its conclusion. Instead, what evidence was proposed to the magistrate and how it was proposed caused an issue.
The investigators only mentioned that questionable text messages between Morales and AC likely existed. It did not openly share that it believed there would also be lewd photographs stored in his cellphone. Based on the information given to the magistrate, not the information the investigators actually held, the CCA found not enough legal reasoning to conduct a search and seizure.
The CCA panel cited the Fourth Amendment and how the search could be seen as a violation of this important proclamation. It also referenced to U.S. v. Carter to discuss that a good faith exception to search and seizure rules did not apply, and rejected any notion that “in plain view” arguments could apply to the search of Morales’ cellphone. With all the details of the case reviewed and criticized, the CCA has reversed Morales’ conviction but left the possibility of a rehearing on the table.
(More information about the recent CCA review of the Morales cellphone search and seizure case can be found by clicking here and visiting CAAFLog.)
Attorney Joseph L. Jordan, one of the nation’s leading military criminal defense attorneys, has built his reputation and law firm throughout the years by winning case after case. He has personally represented and successfully defended military members from all branches and of all ranks from sexual misconduct allegations and other serious accusations of criminal behavior. Any officer, official, or member of the military accused of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) can turn to him for tenacious, intelligent defense by calling (866) 361-4723 and requesting a consultation.