Computer Searches: Compelling Evidence?

Our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know that despite Supreme Court rulings that a warrant is needed for law enforcement officers to search your computer, what you type into search engines in the privacy of your home can come back to hurt you in a court of law.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen many high-profile criminal cases in which what the defendant allegedly typed into a search engine on their computer was brought up in court as evidence. Recall how, in the Casey Anthony trial of 2011, a search for “chloroform” 84 times on the Anthony family computer raised eyebrows in court — prosecutors alleged that this was evidence of Casey researching how to kill her baby daughter using chloroform.

Now, a murder investigation into the death of a Georgia toddler — who died after being left in his father’s SUV in the blazing sun for seven hour — has grown to include searches of the comuter belonging to the father, who is now the suspect in what is being called a “homicide.” Police and forensic experts have announced that seemingly suspicious internet searches draw an eerie connection between the interests of the father and the circumstances in which the son died.

According to an article by Reuters, Justin Ross Harris, the father of the now deceased 22-month-old baby boy, admitted to police that he had conducted internet searches for how long it would take a baby to die in a hot car. This revelation comes after previous police announcements that he had searched for how long it would take an “animal” to die in a hot car.

Initially, as our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense attorneys understand, this might seem like incredibly suspicious behavior, perhaps indicative of guilt. One might assume that, for example, this search reveals part of a wider plan by the father to kill the son and make it look like an accident. The fact that he searched how long it would take for a child to die in a hot car, and then left his son in the hot car long enough for him to die, might imply guilt.

The fact is, however, people do things (including conduct internet searches) for a wide variety fo reasons. What has not received as much widespread attention is the fact that the father also told police that he conducted the search because was “afraid his son might die in an overheated vehicle.” For all the police (or members of the media) know, the father might have read about a child dying in an overheated car (dozens die each year that way in the U.S.) and, as a first-time father, was understandably anxious about the same thing happening to his son.

This apparent indication of guilt must be looked at from all perspectives, for unless a jury can find him guilty of the charges against him “beyond any reasonable doubt,” he must be found not guilty. Let’s take a look at some of the other facts of the case that might lessen the impact of the internet searches in the investigation of the father.

As for the fact that he forgot to drop his baby boy off at day care when going to work, perhaps he was under so much stress that he forgot to remove his child from the carseat that day. If this is the case, his actions are clearly careless, but not necessarily criminal — if true, this certainly doesn’t warrant murder charges.

The last piece of seemingly incriminating evidence against the father is that, according to police, the father went to his SUV during his lunch break and placed something in the car after opening the driver’s side door. One might assume that, even if everything else was an accident, Harris must have noticed his baby boy in the car at that time. The fact is, however, that the baby was placed in the car in his carseat, which was placed in the back seat, in a rear-facing position. Thus, when Harris opened the driver’s side door, he would have been unable to tell by sight whether or not the baby was in the vehicle. If the baby was asleep, for example, and not making any noise, the father might not have noticed the baby, especially if he was not looking for him.

In our justice system, defendants are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Seemingly suspicious activity, if considered alongside all of the relevant information, might not seem so damning. If you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, you deserve expert legal representation. To schedule a free consultation with our experienced criminal defense lawyers, please contact us by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363).

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