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People v. Nguyen

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

June 7, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
KEVIN NGUYEN, Defendant and Respondent.

         Santa Clara County Superior Court Superior Court No. C1483868 Hon. Griffin M. J. Bonini Judge

          Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant: The People Xavier Becerra Attorney General Gerald A. Engler Chief Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey M. Laurence Senior Assistant Attorney General Laurence K. Sullivan Supervising Deputy Attorney General Bridget Billeter Deputy Attorney General Leif M. Dautch Deputy Attorney General

          Counsel for Defendant/Respondent: Kevin Nguyen Law Office of Jeremy D. Blank Jeremy D. Blank

          Premo, J.

         This case concerns the scope of a warrant to search a property based on probable cause that a computer on the property was used in a crime.

         Police identified an IP address for an Internet account sharing child pornography online. Comcast identified the account subscriber as Jennie Reynolds at 309 South 23rd Street in San José. The police obtained a search warrant for the residence, garages, and outbuildings at the address. While searching Reynolds' house, the police discovered defendant Kevin Nguyen was living in a separate residence behind the house. The police then searched Nguyen's residence and found a laptop with child pornography. The trial court found the search overbroad and granted Nguyen's motion to suppress.

         The Attorney General appeals. He contends the warrant expressly authorized the search. He argues the warrant affidavit set forth probable cause to search any residence on the property because anyone on the property could have accessed Reynolds' computer network wirelessly. Finally, the Attorney General contends the police acted in good faith reliance on the warrant.

         We hold the police lacked probable cause to search defendant's residence because they had no basis to believe the suspect network was accessed from defendant's residence. We further hold the warrant did not expressly authorize the search, and the police lacked good faith reliance on the warrant. We will affirm the judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Facts of the Search

         Detective Sean Pierce of the San José Police Department investigated child pornography on the Internet. Pierce identified an IP address (Internet Protocol address) used by a Comcast account sharing child pornography online. An IP address is an identifier assigned to a device on a network, such as a router, computer, or printer. The IP address allows the device to be identified and located by other devices. When a user connects to the Internet through a router, the user's Internet service provider (e.g., Comcast) assigns an IP address to the user's router.

         Comcast informed Pierce that the account subscriber with the suspect IP address was Jennie Reynolds at 309 South 23rd Street in San José. Pierce searched a database and found three names associated with that address: Jennie Reynolds, Joshua Blankenship, and Kevin Nguyen.

         Pierce searched for 309 South 23rd Street on Google Maps to get an overhead “bird's eye” view of the property. The overhead view revealed two distinct structures on the lot: a house facing the street on the front of the lot, and a separate L-shaped structure about 25 feet behind the front house. The rear structure appeared to cover an area of about 1, 000 square feet spanning the width of the lot.

         Pierce went to the address and viewed the property from the sidewalk in front of the house. The house appeared to be a single family residence. Pierce saw only one mailbox, one driveway, and one set of numbers affixed to the front of the house identifying it as “309.” The rear structure was behind a fence at the end of the driveway. Pierce testified that the only part of the structure he could see over the fence was a garage door, leading him to believe the building was a garage.

         Pierce searched for wireless network signals in the area in front of the house. He did not locate any “open” wireless networks-i.e., networks unprotected by a password. He detected multiple closed (password-protected) wireless network signals, but he could not determine whether any of the signals were connected to computers on the property. Nor could he determine whether any of the signals were associated with Reynolds' Comcast account. He did not know whether there were any wireless routers on the property.

         Pierce saw two cars parked on the property. He saw a car registered to Reynolds parked on a cement area in front of the house. In the driveway, he saw a black Lexus registered to Nguyen at the Mountain View Police Department. The police discovered Nguyen was a police officer for the Mountain View Police Department.

         Pierce obtained a warrant for a search of: “The residence located at: 309 South 23rd Street in San Jose, CA described as a single story single family residence.” The warrant described the appearance of the front house as viewed from the street. The warrant also authorized the search of “any and all yards, garages, carports, outbuildings, storage areas and sheds assigned to the above-described premises.”

         The supporting affidavit identified Jennie Reynolds as the subscriber to the Comcast account with the suspect IP address. The affidavit stated that “the person responsible for the trading of child pornography from this residence can be anyone with access to the internet signal associated with this residence.” Neither the warrant nor the affidavit mentioned Nguyen. Pierce testified that at the time he sought the warrant he did not know Nguyen lived in the rear residence, and he had no information on the relationship between Nguyen, Reynolds, and Blankenship.

         The day before police executed the search warrant, they notified the Mountain View Police Department of the impending search of Nguyen's residence. On the day of the search, San José police officers surreptitiously followed Nguyen driving from the property at 309 South 23rd Street to the Mountain View Police Department. When Nguyen arrived at work to report for duty, two Mountain View police ...


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