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Murder and Child Abuse Sufficient for Reasonable Search, 10th Cir. Says

By Betty Wang, JD on June 20, 2013 3:55 PM

Last week, the Tenth Circuit found no errors in the district court's decision to deny all of Rebecca's Christie's Fourth Amendment challenge to the search of her computer.

Christie was said to have appeared far more involved in her virtual life than her actual one, and the case of United States v. Christie only further affirmed this when she was convicted of second-degree murder and state child abuse for being responsible for her three-year-old daughter's death. Rebecca Christie was an avid gamer, who spent the larger part of her days -- from the morning until late hours of the night, in the World of Warcraft.

Because her husband was not around those days, her daughter was left untended to and as a result, died from dehydration. Had Christie paid any attention at all to her child, she would have noticed clear warning signs in her child's rapidly deteriorating health. To make matters even more appalling, Christie was said to have returned soon back online after discovering her child dead. Her message to the other gamers? That she was annoyed by her mothering responsibilities and "wanted out of this house fast."

How nurturing.

Christie's appeal involves several questions, and the government's cross-appeal as well. The primary question addressed was whether or not the search of her computer, after it had been seized, was in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights, and challenged the warrants leading to those searches.

There were two warrants that the government had obtained for the searches — the first one of which came some five months after the authorities had seized Christie's computer. Christie's first argument was that this was unreasonably delayed and thus should have precluded that warrant from being issued.

While the Tenth Circuit acknowledged that a delay could be cause for unreasonableness, they found that this didn't apply here. Not only did the item seized have major evidentiary value, but Mr. Wulf, Christie's husband, consented to the seizure. He was at least a co-owner of the computer, and on top of this, Christie had raised no objection at the time or in the following months during its absence. Thus, there was both consent and no complaints after the fact.

Christie's other attack was regarding the validity of the second warrant, which was issued with the purpose of conducting a more thorough search of the computer. She claimed that this did not contain enough particularity as required under the Fourth Amendment. The court, in turn, citing United States v. Brooks, found that the narrowed direction, for the purposes of searching for any records and information relating to the neglect, abuse, and murder of her daughter from June 19th, 2002 (the child's birth date) to May 4, 2006 (the date the computer was seized) was certainly particular enough.

Bottom line: When you've neglected your child to the point of killing them, it's best not to complain about protecting the computer that distracted you to the point of ending up at this tragic point.

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