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United States v. Shields

August 16, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ERIC SHIELDS, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Crim. No. 01-cr-00384) Honorable Malcolm Muir, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Greenberg, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued June 30, 2006

BEFORE: AMBRO, FUENTES, and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges,

OPINION OF THE COURT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes on before the court on appeal from a judgment of conviction and sentence entered in the district court on July 28, 2005, and from an order entered in the district court on April 14, 2004, denying defendant Eric Shields' motion to suppress evidence the FBI obtained from a search of his home pursuant to a search warrant and to suppress statements that he made at his home following the search. Shields asserts that the warrant was based on an affidavit containing intentionally or recklessly false statements and that, purged of these statements, the affidavit does not supply probable cause for the warrant. The district court denied Shields' request for a hearing on his motion pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 98 S.Ct. 2674 (1978), as it concluded that the affidavit supports a finding of probable cause even with the purportedly false statements excised. For the following reasons, we will affirm the judgment and order of the district court.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 2, 2001, FBI Special Agent Geoffrey Binney, working in an undercover capacity, subscribed online to an entity called the "Candyman" e-group.*fn1 The Candyman e-group was a free website to which one could subscribe by providing an e-mail address. The purpose of the Candyman e-group, as stated on its own website, was as follows:

This group is for People who love kids. You can post any type of messages you like too [sic] or any type of pics and vids you like too [sic]. P.S. IF WE ALL WORK TOGETHER WE WILL HAVE THE BEST GROUP ON THE NET.

App. at 79, ¶ 10. As this pronouncement suggests, members of the Candyman e-group could discuss their shared interests, as well as exchange images and video files. The website also provided: a "polls" feature, which allowed members to participate in surveys; a "links" section, which allowed members to share website addresses for websites containing similar content; and a "chat" section, which allowed members to engage in realtime conversations with other members online. In particular, Agent Binney was interested in investigating the use of the Candyman e-group to transmit child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A.*fn2 As a member of the Candyman e-group, Agent Binney received e-mails containing hundreds of images and video clips depicting children engaged in sexual activities.

Through his membership in the Candyman e-group, Agent Binney learned of another e-group called "Girls12-16," the purpose of which it stated on its website as follows:

Hi all, This group is for all those ho [sic] appreciate the young female in here [sic] finest form. Watching her develop and grow is like poetry in motioon [sic], to an age where she takes an interest in the joys and pleasures of sex. There is probably nothing more stimulating than watching a young teen girl discover the pleasures of the orgasm. The joy of feeling like she is actually coming into womanhood. Its [sic] an age where they have no preconditions about anything, just pure opennes [sic]. What a joy to be part of that wonderful experience and to watch the development of this perfect form. This is the place to be if you love 11 to 16 yr olds. You can share experiences with others,. [sic] share your views and opinions quite freely without censorship.. [sic] YOu [sic] can share all kinds of other information as well regarding - your current model: if you are a photographer. Where the best place to meet gitls [sic] is. The difficulties you experience in your quest. The best ways to chat up. Good places to pick up girls. Girls you would like to share with others. The choice is all yours. Welcome home! Post videos and photographs . . . and how about your true life experiences with them so other viewers can paint a mental picture andin [sic] some ways share the experience with you. You could connect with others from the same country as you and get together sociall [sic] if you wish. The choice is all yours. How about a model resource for photographers? It's all up to you and is only limited by your own imaginations. Membership is open to anyone but you will need to post something first. Mybe [sic] a little bit about yourself/what your interests are (specifically), what your age looking for (specifically), your age, location . . . and a pic or vid would be a good to [sic]. By doing this, other members (or potential members) with the same interest may then contact you if you wish them to.

App. at 82-83, ¶ 15. As with the Candyman e-group, Agent Binney was interested in investigating the use of the Girls12-16 e-group to transmit child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A. To this end, Agent Binney joined the Girls12-16 e-group from February 2, 2001, through February 15, 2001, and during this time he received numerous e-mails containing images of child pornography.

In the course of his investigation, Agent Binney served a federal grand jury subpoena on Yahoo Services (Yahoo), said to be the owner and operator of the e-groups, directing Yahoo to divulge information regarding the members of the e-groups under investigation. On February 6, 2001, Yahoo shut down the Candyman e-group and provided the FBI with a list of approximately 3,397 members' e-mail addresses. With this information, the FBI issued subpoenas to the e-mail providers requesting identifying information, including the members' names, addresses, and phone numbers. The FBI then transmitted this information to local FBI offices, which were assigned to investigate individual members as part of a national investigation dubbed "Operation Candyman."

To assist the local offices with their investigations, Agent Binney provided a template for a search warrant affidavit containing general information obtained during the course of his investigation. Of particular importance, Agent Binney explained how he purportedly joined the e-groups and the workings of them, including in pertinent part:

11. As a result of SA Binney's investigation, the FBI determined the following about the Candyman Egroup:

(a) Voluntary Egroup Membership: In order to join the Egroup, a person had to visit the URL and send an email to the group moderator requesting permission to join. The moderator would then send a confirmation notice to the requestor's email account, advising him that he now had access to the Egroup. . . .

(b) Website Features: The Candyman Egroup's website had several different features. First, the 'Files' section provided an area for members to post images or video files for others to download . . . . Second, all new members of the Egroup were immediately added to the Candyman e-mail list. Every e-mail sent to the group was distributed to every member automatically. Therefore, when an individual uploaded and transmitted ...


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