Thursday, March 21, 2013

CP conviction reversed after improper search of probationer's computers for images depicting cruelty to animals

In State v. Purtell, No. 2012AP1307-CR (Wis. Ct. App. 2013), the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed a child pornography conviction because the state did not have reasonable grounds to search the probationer's computers.

The defendant was on probation for two counts of cruelty to animals. As a result of his conviction, he was forbidden from possessing a computer. Upon telling his probation agent that he had two computers and a MySpace account and giving up his password, it was discovered that he had posted images of "animals that were partially human." From this alone, the computers were seized and searched because, as the state argued, the "probation agent had 'reasonable grounds' to believe that Purtell's computers contained 'contraband,'" with "contraband" meaning images depicting cruelty to animals. Images of child pornography were found on his computer, and he was convicted for possession.

The court disagreed that reasonable grounds existed. First, Purtell was not prevented under the terms of probation "from possessing images depicting cruelty to animals or the mutilation of animals." Also, there were no reasonable grounds to believe "the computers contained something that was otherwise illegal to possess ... [nor] evidence of a crime." The behavior was simply "suspicious."

Thus, the defendant's conviction for eight counts of possession of child pornography was reversed and remanded.


  1. There is also a story about this from the Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee paper) - "Animal cruelty + satyr image = child porn? No. Conviction reversed" -