United States v. McCarty

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 08-03-2011
  • Case #: 09-10504
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Hawkins for the Court; Circuit Judges McKeown and Rawlinson
  • Full Text Opinion

A TSA screener’s search of checked luggage occurs “within the scope of the ongoing lawful administrative search” when the discovery of contraband coincides with the search for explosives and safety hazards.

Simon McCarty’s checked luggage was searched at Hilo International Airport and TSA screeners discovered McCarty to be in possession of almost five dozen photographs of nude and partially nude minors and handwritten notes describing the molestation of children. Federal agents obtained a search warrant for McCarty’s computer, finding 200 video clips of child pornography, sixty of which depicted McCarty engaged in sexual relations with different young boys. McCarty was subsequently charged with two counts of possession of child pornography and six counts relating to coercing minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct, and transporting those visual depictions to the United States. McCarty filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the airport search of his checked luggage. The district court granted the motion and “ordered all evidence seized as a result of the airport search of his luggage suppressed” and the government appealed. The Ninth Circuit held that the scope of the permissible search ended once the TSA screener “had abandoned the search for safety hazards” and was searching through the photographs due to concerns regarding child pornography. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that the TSA screener’s testimony supports that when she looked through the envelope containing the photographs, “she was still acting to ensure that there were no sheet explosives hidden inside.” Therefore, “this search intent was consistent with the TSA protocol requiring [TSA screeners] to thumb through the photographs in order to clear the bag” and the screener’s review of the photographs occurred “within the scope of the ongoing lawful administrative search.” VACATED AND REMANDED.

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