The Trial of Dr. Mark Rettenmaier and the Fourth Amendment

On January 27, 2017, the trial of Dr. Mark Rettenmaier will begin in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. He was indicted under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(5)(B), (b)(2) for Possession of Child Pornography. This case gained media attention because of the long lasting effects it could possibly have on future child pornography cases.

If you haven’t heard about this case, here’s a brief synopsis. On November 2011, Dr. Rettenmaier took his computer hard drive to Best Buy for repairs and from there it was shipped to Best Buy’s Kentucky maintenance center. While at that location, one of the geeks, Justin Meade, contacted a local FBI office to report that a technician had found something suspicious. From the discovery, a search warrant was obtained and several electronics seized. As a result of the investigation, he was later indicted on possession of child pornography.

Now, the problem here isn’t that Best Buy reported the alleged child pornography because Best Buy along with Apple has a policy to report any suspicious activity, but the problem is that Meade allegedly got paid for his reporting. This causes a problem because it puts in question whether he is just a Best Buy employee or also a federal agent. If he is an agent, then a search warrant needs to be obtained before going through the computer. Rettenmaier along with any person in the United States is afforded this protection through the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The government cannot go through your stuff without first getting a search warrant and specifying to the court why they suspect this item/location must be searched. So this brings back the issue whether paying an informant automatically makes he/she a government agent and unfortunately this has yet to be clearly defined. If in fact the FBI agent paid an employee then it can be inferred that the employee would be motivated to fish until he finds damaging information. Not only is this an illegal search but also it puts in question the entire investigation.

Hopefully now you can see why the results from this case will be so critical on how the courts will handle this issue from now on. Be on the lookout for this case!

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, contact the lawyers at the Law Office of Patrick J McLain, PLLC. We can help defend you against various crimes and will fight vigorously to protect your legal rights. You can call us 24/7 by calling (214) 238-9392. Don’t wait before it is too late!

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