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On Monday, a federal appeals court sided against a former Philadelphia police officer who has been in jail 17 months because he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. He had refused to comply with a court order commanding him to unlock two hard drives the authorities say contain child porn.
The 3-0 decision (PDF) by the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals means that the suspect, Francis Rawls, likely will remain jailed indefinitely or until the order (PDF) finding him in contempt of court is lifted or overturned. However, he still can comply with the order and unlock two FileVault encrypted drives connected to his Apple Mac Pro. Using a warrant, authorities seized those drives from his residence in 2015. While Rawls could get out from under the contempt order by unlocking those drives, doing so might expose him to other legal troubles.
In deciding against Rawls, the court of appeals found that the constitutional rights against being compelled to testify against oneself were not being breached.
That’s because the appeals court, like the police, said that the presence of child porn on his drives was a “foregone conclusion.” The Fifth Amendment, at its most basic level, protects suspects from being forced to disclose incriminating evidence.
In this instance, however, the authorities said they already know there’s child porn on the drives, so Rawls’ constitutional rights aren’t compromised.
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