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United States v. Hinds

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

January 30, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
AUGUST HINDS, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SAMUEL H. MAYS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant August Hinds' Motion to Suppress Evidence (“Motion to Suppress”), filed on July 12, 2017. (ECF No. 22.) On November 21, 2017, United States Magistrate Judge Tu M. Pham issued a Report and Recommendation (the “Report”). (ECF No. 44.) The Report recommends that the motion be denied. (Id. at 305.)[1]

         On December 4, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to extend the deadline to file objections to the Report to December 12, 2017. (ECF No. 46.) The Court granted the motion on December 6, 2017. (ECF No. 47.) On December 12, 2017, Defendant filed his objections to the Report. (ECF No. 48.)

         For the following reasons, the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report. The Motion to Suppress is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action arises from a nationwide federal investigation into “Playpen, ” an online child pornography website. (ECF No. 22 at 36.) In February 2015, authorities arrested Playpen's administrator and gained control of the website. (Id.; ECF No. 26 at 108.) In an effort to locate and identify users of Playpen, government investigators placed a copy of the website on a government-controlled server in the Eastern District of Virginia. (ECF No. 26 at 108-09.)

         Investigators were unable to identify Playpen's users because of “The Onion Router” (“TOR”) technology. (ECF No. 22 at 37; ECF No. 26 at 107-09.) TOR technology masked Playpen users' identifying information. (Id.) To circumvent that technology, investigators sought to install Network Investigative Technique (“NIT”) technology on the government-controlled server. (ECF No. 22 at 37; ECF No. 26 at 109.) The NIT technology would infiltrate the computers of Playpen users and gather users' identifying information despite TOR technology. (ECF No. 22 at 37.)

         Before installing the NIT technology, investigators applied for a search warrant (the “NIT warrant”). (ECF No. 22 at 39-40; ECF No. 26 at 109-10.) The NIT warrant provided that information could be collected from any computer that accessed the Playpen server, no matter where the computer was located. (ECF No. 22 at 39.) On February 20, 2015, a federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia authorized the NIT warrant. (Id. at 39-40.)

         Investigators operated Playpen on the government-controlled server for approximately two weeks and collected users' information. (Id. at 36; ECF No. 26 at 109.) A Playpen user with the user name “lovemuffin” was identified. (ECF No. 22 at 40.) Investigators served a subpoena on Comcast, an internet service provider, requesting information about the IP address associated with lovemuffin's account. (Id.) The subpoena produced a physical address in Memphis, Tennessee. (Id.; ECF No. 26 at 110.) Investigators identified Defendant as a resident at the address and obtained a search warrant for the residence from a federal magistrate judge in the Western District of Tennessee. (ECF No. 22 at 40; ECF No. 26 at 110.) On September 3, 2015, government agents executed the search warrant at Defendant's residence and seized a computer, a cell phone, thumb drives, CDs, and DVDs. (ECF No. 22 at 40-41.)

         On March 8, 2017, a federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against Defendant. (ECF No. 1.) The indictment charges Defendant with accessing a website and server with the intent to view child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B). (Id. at 1.)

         On July 12, 2017, Defendant filed the Motion to Suppress. (ECF No. 22.) Defendant argues that the magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia lacked authority to issue the NIT warrant. (Id. at 45-47.) Defendant also argues that the good faith exception should not apply. (Id. at 48-54.)

         The Court referred the Motion to Suppress to Magistrate Judge Pham. (ECF No. 23.) After a hearing, the Magistrate Judge entered his Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 44.) The Report recommends that the Motion to Suppress be denied. (Id. at 305.)

         II. JURISDICTION & STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court has the authority to “designate a magistrate judge to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and to submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition, by a judge of the court, of any motion.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). “The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive ...


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