A Murrayville man accused of sexual exploitation of a child had his case dismissed after a Hall County Sheriff’s Office investigator “failed to secure a search warrant for the defendant’s cellphone,” according to court documents.
Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh signed the nolle prosequi, or dismissal, for Stephen Alan Moore. The dismissal was filed in Hall County court on Dec. 30.
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office originally arrested Moore in December 2016.
The case involved Moore allegedly possessing media involving minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
“The charges were corroborated by the defendant’s statements to law enforcement that he had viewed child pornography and was a member of internet chatrooms that shared and discussed child pornography,” according to the dismissal.
An investigator seized Moore’s phone, obtained warrants for his arrest and gave the phone to the Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad to analyze.
But the investigator “failed to secure a search warrant for the defendant’s cellphone at any time prior or even following the search of the phone,” according to the dismissal.
Other search warrants were filed but not for the defendant’s property.
Citing Georgia code regarding admissions and confessions, the dismissal said a “confession alone, uncorroborated by any other evidence, shall not justify a conviction.”
“Therefore, without the evidence of possession found on the defendant’s cellphone, which is per se suppressible, the State would be unable to meet the burden in a criminal case,” according to the dismissal.
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office said this was one of the first occasions in which a child pornography case had been relayed to their department from the FBI.
“Moore said he initially was looking at adult pornography, however links to child pornography came up, and he viewed them out of curiosity. Moore said that his cellphone was the device he used to access the images,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The investigator “assumed there was enough evidence based on the FBI information, confession and previous search warrants,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“In the four years since this case was investigated, procedures have changed to ensure separate search warrants are obtained for each electronic device. Investigative practices for crimes involving the use of the internet are ever-evolving. The Sheriff’s Office is constantly striving to stay abreast of the latest techniques that meet the requirements of the law,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Defense attorney Jeff Talley said the dismissal “speaks for itself” when reached for comment.