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United States v. Grinder

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 12, 2018

United States of America
v.
Eric Wayne Grinder

          MEMORANDUM

          CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The defendant, Eric Wayne Grinder, ("Grinder"), has been indicted by the United States on eight counts: (1) five counts of production of child pornography; (2) two counts of possession of child pornography; and (3) one count of witness tampering. (ECF No. 20). Grinder has now moved to suppress evidence obtained from a laptop and cell phone searched and seized under state and federal warrants. (ECF No. 33). For the reasons stated below, Grinder's motion will be denied.

         Background

         The following facts are based on the testimony and exhibits presented in connection with an evidentiary hearing held January 26, 2018. On November 27, 2016, a 10-year-old girl, referred to as Minor Victim by the government, told her mother, Alisha Grinder, that she had been sexually abused by her adopted father, Eric Wayne Grinder. (Warrant Affidavit, ECF No. 44, Ex. 2 at 2). On November 29, 2016, after Alisha Grinder reported what the Minor Victim had told her, the police learned from a forensic interview of the Minor Victim that she claimed Grinder had sexually abused her for years, at both the family's prior residence and their current residence at 261 Montpelier Court in Westminster, Maryland. (Id. at 3). Alisha Grinder also told the police that she suspected Grinder of drugging the Minor Victim with Clonazepam, a drug in the benzodiazepine class purchased by Grinder over the Internet to treat Alisha's insomnia. (Id.).

         By evening on the 29th, the police sought a state search and seizure warrant for Grinder's current residence. While the warrant application was pending, Corporal Michael Lare of the Carroll County Sheriffs Office secured Grinder's residence at around 5:06 pm. The residence was empty until Grinder pulled up the driveway in a car around 5:56 pm, and began walking toward Corporal Lare who was standing at the front door to the residence. Corporal Lare met Grinder near the car and told him that a warrant was being sought to search his home. He asked, as his supervisor told him to, for a key to the residence and for Grinder's cell phone, which was in his car.[1] Grinder complied, and afterward chose to remain waiting in his car.

         At 6:15 pm a state court judge approved the warrant application. (Warrant, ECF No. 44, Ex. 1). The warrant found probable cause to believe that several crimes had been committed and authorized law enforcement to search the property known as 261 Montpelier Court, Westminster Maryland, and seize:

         evidence relating to the crimes of Sex Abuse of a Minor, 2nd Degree Sexual Offense, 3rd Degree Sexual Offense, Rape 2nd Degree, Sex Abuse of a Minor-Continuing Course of Conduct, to include but not limited to crime scene processing; to include photographs, drawings/measurements, DNA/Biological evidence collection; bedding, prescription and non-prescription medication to include but not limited to [Clonazepam] and U-77l, home drug testing kits, invoices/receipts for mail order medications, cell phones, computers, hard drives, media storage devices, etc.

(Id.).

         The warrant also authorized the police to, among other things: (1) "[e]nter and search the residence as completely described above for evidence of the aforementioned crimes to include the curtilage;" (2) "[s]eize all evidence found in or upon said premises and its curtilage;" (3.) "[s]eize and have forensically analyzed by a qualified person or persons any cellular telephones seized;" and (4) "[s]eize and have forensically analyzed by a qualified-person or persons any computers, hard drives, [and] media devices." Id.

         The Carroll County Sheriffs Office executed the warrant at 6:31 pm and, in the course of the search, seized a Toshiba laptop computer. (Opp. to Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 44, p. 4). The laptop eventually was sent to the Department of Homeland Security for forensic analysis. (Id.) Analysis of the laptop began on December 19, 2016, and turned up what an analyst believed were images of the Minor Victim being sexually abused by an adult male and two photos of child pornography. (Id.) After discovering the images, the analyst promptly suspended his search pending a federal warrant specifically authorizing a search for evidence related to child pornography. (Id.) The government asserts that the analyst acted out of "an abundance of caution" and could have lawfully continued searching the laptop under the original state warrant. In any case, a federal warrant was signed on March 17, 2017, authorizing law enforcement to search the cell phone and laptop computer for evidence of child pornography. (Opp. to Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 44, Exs. 3, 4).

         The federal warrant was based on several assertions in a supporting affidavit, in addition to those in the state affidavit, including that: (1) the images of sexual abuse believed to feature the Minor Victim did feature the Minor Victim; (2) a medical examination performed on the Minor Victim discovered signs of sexual abuse; and (3) the Minor Victim told her mother, Alisha Grinder, that the defendant videotaped her sexual abuse and played it back on the television. (Opp. to Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 44, Ex. 5).

         Resuming his search of the laptop, and this time including Grinder's cell phone, the analyst found additional evidence that Grinder sexually abused the Minor Victim,, images of child pornography, and Google search terms related to child pornography. (Opp. to Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 44, pp. 5-6)

         Grinder now moves to suppress the evidence found on the laptop and cell phone claiming that their search and seizure violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment. (ECF No. 33). The government has opposed the defendant's motion. (ECF No. 44).

         Analysis

         Grinder argues that the evidence law enforcement obtained from his cell phone and the Toshiba laptop should be suppressed because the state warrant is insufficiently supported by probable cause and lacks particularity, and because the seizure of the cell phone outside the residence and the ...


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