April 18, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. 14-cr-69 - Colin S. Bruce, Judge.
Easterbrook and Sykes, Circuit Judges, and Adelman, District
day after police responded to a domestic dispute between
Talon Wright and Leslie Hamilton, an investigator returned to
the couple's apartment to follow up on suspicions that
Wright was in possession of child pornography. With
Hamilton's consent, the investigator searched the
apartment and conducted a forensic preview of a desktop
computer found in the living room. The preview revealed
images of child pornography on the hard drive. Wright was
indicted on child-pornography and child-exploitation charges.
He moved to suppress the evidence recovered from the
warrantless search of his computer, arguing that Hamilton
lacked authority to consent. The district judge denied the
motion. Wright pleaded guilty but reserved his right to
appeal the denial of suppression and now does so.
affirm. Although Wright owned the desktop computer, Hamilton
was a joint user who enjoyed virtually unlimited access to
and control over it. The computer was located in the living
room of the couple's apartment, and everyone in the
family, including Hamilton and her children, used it freely.
These facts, which were conveyed to the investigator prior to
the search and later confirmed through further investigation,
establish Hamilton's common authority over the computer.
31, 2014, police officers in Urbana, Illinois, responded to a
domestic dispute between Wright and Hamilton. In their
incident report, the responding officers noted that Hamilton
called Wright a "pedophile" during the altercation.
Apparently no arrests were made that day.
following morning Urbana Police Investigator Tim McNaught,
who specializes in handling crimes against children, reviewed
the officers' report as a matter of course. Concerned
about Hamilton's use of the word "pedophile, "
Investigator McNaught contacted her and requested a meeting.
Hamilton arrived at the police station that same morning. In
this initial interview, Investigator McNaught sought
Hamilton's permission to search the couple's
apartment and computers for evidence of child pornography.
Hamilton agreed and took McNaught to the apartment.
the search, McNaught seized a desktop computer he found in
the living room; forensic analysis revealed images of child
pornography on the hard drive. Wright was charged with one
count of possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. §
2252A, and two counts of sexually exploiting a minor,
id. § 2251. He moved to suppress the evidence
recovered from the desktop computer, arguing that Hamilton
lacked authority to consent to the warrantless search.
evidentiary hearing that followed, Investigator McNaught
testified about three different encounters with Hamilton on
the day of the search: (1) the initial interview conducted
prior to the search; (2) a discussion that occurred during
the search itself; and (3) a lengthier post-search interview.
Investigator McNaught described the brief interview with
Hamilton that took place at the Urbana police station before
the search of the apartment and computer. In that interview
McNaught asked Hamilton why she called Wright a pedophile.
Hamilton responded that Wright had used his cellphone to
visit a website called "Jailbait." Investigator
McNaught recognized "Jailbait" as a site that
features pornographic images of underage girls. Hamilton also
mentioned seeing a video with a disturbing title on the
family's home computer. Based on this information,
McNaught asked Hamilton for permission to search the
couple's apartment and computers for evidence of child
pornography, and Hamilton agreed.
Investigator McNaught testified about the search itself. He
explained that Hamilton took him to the apartment that she
shared with Wright and let him in using her key. Once inside
McNaught spotted a desktop computer on the living-room floor.
The computer wasn't attached to a keyboard or traditional
monitor, but it was connected to a flat-screen TV. According
to Investigator McNaught, Hamilton described the computer as
"kind of a family computer" and said that
"[a]nytime she or her kids wanted to use it, they
did." She explained that they used the computer to watch
movies, play games, check the children's grades, and
store work-related documents. However, since the
apartment's wireless Internet service had been
discontinued about a month earlier, they could only access
the Internet when Wright was around to use his cellphone as a
wireless hotspot. Hamilton also pointed out her own laptop
computer; she told the investigator that with the exception
of her personal laptop, Wright owned the rest of the computer
equipment in the apartment.
McNaught then "previewed" the desktop
computer's hard drive by connecting it to his own laptop,
a standard forensic procedure that allows investigators to
view the drive's contents without altering it. This
preview revealed images of child pornography, so McNaught
asked Hamilton for permission to seize the computer along
with the rest of the electronic devices in the apartment for
further investigation. She agreed. Off-site forensic analysis
of the computer revealed additional pornographic images as
well as video and still images of Wright engaging in sexually
explicit conduct with a minor.
Investigator McNaught testified about a second interview that
he conducted with Hamilton after he completed his
search of the apartment. During this longer follow-up
interview, Hamilton described the living arrangements at the
apartment, which was leased in her name. She explained that
she and Wright had been in a tumultuous,
"on-and-off" relationship for the last two years
and had broken up several days earlier. Prior to the breakup,
the couple had been living together in the apartment along
with their six-month old son, three of Hamilton's
children from another relationship, and two of Wright's
children from another relationship. ...