FARMINGTON — A Franklin County court justice denied requests to suppress evidence and statements in the case of a former University of Maine at Farmington student charged with possession of child pornography.

 Keith Nadeau, 20, of Biddeford, was indicted April 16, 2008, on a charge of possession of sexually explicit materials of a minor under 12. Nadeau was indicted after police investigated a fellow student’s complaint that Nadeau had shown child pornography on his laptop computer in a UMF dormitory room in December 2007.

Nadeau’s lawyer, Michael Cunniff, asked the court in a February hearing to suppress evidence, including a flash-drive and laptop computer Nadeau handed over to UMF police in 2007 and recorded statements made to police. The court found that police legally seized the flash-drive but illegally seized the laptop. However, discovery of the laptop was inevitable, the court ruled, and the evidence would not be suppressed.

Nadeau had allowed police to enter his dorm room. During questioning, he denied having child pornography on the computer. However, Nadeau said there was child pornography on the flash-drive and he hadn’t had time to delete it after a previous child pornography court case against him.

Cunniff told the court that police had a plan before they went to Nadeau’s dorm and that his client did not consent to a search of the flash-drive or the computer.UMF police officers stated in court that Nadeau voluntarily handed over the equipment and voluntarily talked to them.

Justice Michaela Murphy concluded that Nadeau made the decision to turn over the flash-drive to the officers early in his interactions with them.

“The evidence that he went to his desk and retrieved the flash-drive when initially confronted with a report about child pornography compels the conclusion that he decided to hand it over at that time, consenting to its seizure,” Murphy wrote in her decision. “Therefore, the state has established by a preponderance of the evidence, that by word and by gesture, Mr. Nadeau voluntarily consented to the seizure of the flash-drive.”

The seizure of the laptop took place a few minutes later when an officer talked with UMF police Chief Ted Blais by telephone. When the officer told Nadeau that the UMF chief said police had to take the laptop as well, Nadeau said he had homework on it and asked if he would get it back by that evening. Officers did not promise to do that.

Murphy stated that the seizure of the laptop was different in two significant ways from the seizure of the flash-drive:
Nadeau had initiated the turnover of the flash-drive, spontaneously retrieving it for the officers without being asked but did not offer his laptop to them in the same way. Also, Nadeau objected to the seizure of the laptop, although clearly based upon academic concerns rather than disclosing potentially incriminatory evidence.

The court found, based on the manner in which the officers requested the computer and based upon Nadeau’s reluctance to turn over the laptop, that it was seized illegally and in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Evidence independent of the seizure of the laptop was sufficient to lead the investigation directly to the laptop, Murphy stated. That evidence included a report from another student, officers’ conversation with Nadeau, officers’ visual observation of Nadeau’s laptop in his room, and the fact that one needs to use a computer to view images saved on a flash-drive.

Murphy found that given the words and gestures used by Nadeau in handing over the equipment to officers, he voluntarily consented to both seizure and search of the equipment.

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