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In its decision in United States v. Wesley Joseph Slanina, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded as follows:
“. . .we conclude that the warrantless search of Slanina's office computer equipment, including the computer and the zip disk, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. We also hold that the district court's finding that Slanina voluntarily consented to the search of his home computer equipment was not clearly erroneous. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court's ruling and Slanina's conviction.”
In its decision, the link to which is provided below, the U.S. Court of Appeals, in upholding Slanina’s conviction for possession of child pornography, and after exhaustively examining existing case law pertaining to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and against warrantless searches and seizures, the court of appeals determined that, while Slanina did have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to his office computer – noted in the absence of clearly-articulated employer policies regarding personal use of such computers as well as his use of passwords and locks on his office door (“… given the absence of a city policy placing Slanina on notice that his computer usage would be monitored and the lack of any indication that other employees had routine access to his computer, we hold that Slanina's expectation of privacy was reasonable”) – the searches of his home and office computers did not constitute violations of his constitutional rights. Slanina clearly consented to searches of his home computer, which was actually city property, and the searches of his office computer were initially conducted with an eye towards employee misconduct extending from the system administrator’s attempts at updating Slanina’s computer and ensuring its connectivity to the central computers of the agency for which he worked.
Slanina was a city employee, specifically, a Fire Marshall for Galveston, Texas, a position requiring routine interaction with local law enforcement agencies, and clearly, by his actions as described by the aforementioned systems administrator and by his superiors and police officials, understood that the routine examination of his office computer would expose his practice of downloading pornographic material, including that relating to children. His cooperation with investigators and his consent to searches of his home (again, city-owned and supplied) computer undermined his argument against unreasonable searches and seizures. The appellate court’s decision, therefore, seems correct.
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