State v. Esarey
It is well settled that constitutional search and seizure violations are not structural improprieties requiring reversal, but rather, are subject to harmless error analysis. Following a jury trial, David Esarey, a church youth minister, was convicted of several crimes. He appealed his conviction of promoting a minor in an obscene performance, possession of child pornography and risk of injury to a child in violation of C.G.S. §53-21(a)(1), challenging the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from his Google email account (Gmail account) through the execution of a search warrant. He claimed that the judge violated his rights under the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article first, §7 of the state constitution in issuing the extraterritorial search warrant for his Gmail account contained on Google's servers located in California and that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress the evidentiary fruits of that illegal search. The defendant raised a question of first impression concerning whether a judge of the Superior Court has the authority, under article fifth, §1 of the Connecticut constitution, as implemented by C.G.S. §51-1a(b), to issue an extraterritorial search and seizure warrant for evidence contained within email servers located in another state. While finding that the question deserved further study by the legislature and commenting on it in a footnote, the Supreme Court declined to reach the merits of the claim and affirmed the judgment, because any impropriety arising from the challenged search was harmless error beyond a reasonable doubt. Assuming, without deciding, that the evidence obtained pursuant to the challenged warrant violated the defendant's fourth amendment rights, the Supreme Court nevertheless was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that any such illegality did not contribute to his challenged convictions. The search authorized by the warrant yielded one exhibit containing three photographs depicting, respectively, a female's buttocks, breasts and vagina that the defendant emailed to himself within his Gmail account. The email and images did not contain the female's face or identifying details. The exhibit was, at best, cumulative of other overwhelming evidence against the defendant, the admissibility of which was not challenged on appeal. The "mountain of other evidence" included numerous explicit images along with emails from the victim's Yahoo account of Facebook messages from the defendant.