Sisson v. State, No. 319, 2005.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtSteele
Citation903 A.2d 288
PartiesSean M. SISSON, Defendant Below, Appellant, v. STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 319, 2005.
Decision Date19 June 2006
903 A.2d 288
Sean M. SISSON, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.
No. 319, 2005.
Supreme Court of Delaware.
Submitted: April 12, 2006.
Decided: June 19, 2006.

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Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County, Cr. A. Nos. IN-04-03-2294 through 2296 and IN04-03-2301 through 2303 ID Nos. 0403019957A and 0403019957B.

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Upon appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED.

Bernard J. O'Donnell (argued) and Nicole M. Walker, Office of the Public Defender, Wilmington, Delaware for appellant.

Thomas E. Brown (argued) and Donald R. Roberts, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware for appellee.

Before STEELE, Chief Justice, HOLLAND, BERGER, JACOBS and RIDGELY, Justices, constituting the court en Banc.

STEELE, Chief Justice.


The defendant appellant, Sean Sisson appeals his convictions for six counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child. The Delaware State Police executed a search warrant at Sisson's residence and seized Sisson's business computer. On the computer they found several hundred images of child pornography, ten of which depicted Sisson's daughter. Sisson was charged with ten counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child and various other counts of possessing and dealing in child pornography. Before trial, Sisson moved to suppress the images contending that the affidavit in support of the warrant failed to support a finding of probable cause. Sisson also moved to dismiss nine of the ten counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child on the ground that they were multiplicitous. The trial judge denied both of these motions. The trial judge did, however, grant Sisson's motion to sever the Sexual Exploitation counts from the other dealing and possessing counts. After a bench trial on the Sexual Exploitation charges, the judge found Sisson guilty on six of the ten counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child. Sisson ultimately pleaded guilty to two of the other severed counts and the State entered nolle prosequis on the remaining charges. Sisson now appeals the denial of his motion to suppress and motion to dismiss. Because the affidavit established probable cause, because Sisson was properly charged with ten counts of Sexual Exploitation, and because the evidence supports his conviction of six counts, we affirm the trial judge's rulings and Sisson's convictions.

FACTS

On March 24, 2004 detectives of the Delaware State Police submitted an application for a search warrant supported by an affidavit of probable cause to a magistrate in J.P. Court. The affidavit included the following information:

1. On March 17, 2004, Your Affiant(s) received information through The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)1 that America On Line (AOL), an Internet Service Provider, had discovered an email that depicted a pre-pubescent, possibly Asia [sic], female performing fellatio on an adult white male. The email involved an AOL subscriber with the screen name "letsrolearound" with the email address of letsrolearound@aol.com. The email was discovered, by AOL, on January 2, 2004. AOL provided the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, located in the state of Florida, with the picture and screen name of the subscriber. The original file name was "6year_blowbb.jpg". An attachment, to the sent email by "letsrolearound", was identified by

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AOL employees as an image depicting child pornography.

2. [A Florida Detective], of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, sent a subpoena to AOL for information involving "letsrolearound". It was discovered that the subscriber for letsrolearound was [the defendant's wife] with an address [in] ... Lutz, Fl[orida].... Sean Sisson [the defendant] (WM: DOB: 02/23/63) was the second bill contact on the AOL account. [The Florida Detective] discovered that [the defendant's wife] and ... Sisson no longer resided in Florida and had a current address [in] ... Hockessin, De.

3. [The Florida Detective] also discovered that [the defendant's wife] and Sean Sisson had two daughters and two sons. In May 2002, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigated an allegation of child abuse involving Sean Sisson, who was identified as the father of [youngest daughter], and [oldest daughter] ... The allegation involved inappropriate behavior involving [youngest daughter] and her father Sean Sisson. The case was cleared unfounded [sic].

4. Since it was discovered that [defendant's wife] and Sean Sisson now resided in Delaware, [the Florida Detective] forwarded all the information to NCMEC. NCMEC, in turn, forwarded the information to Your Affiant(s).

5. Your Affiant(s) completed a local Delaware license check and found that [defendant's wife and] Sean Sisson ... obtained Delaware Drivers [sic] licenses in 2003. All the licenses have the address ... [in] Hockessin, De.

6. Your Affiant verified that [oldest daughter] and [youngest daughter] attend [a middle school] in Delaware. From [oldest daughter's] school records, she is described as Asian-Caucasian.

7. Your Affiant verified that Sean Sisson is employed by Netvantage Solutions Inc., located in Hockessin Delaware. Your Affiant completed a business check, through the Better Business Bureau, for Netvantage Solutions. The check revealed that the principle [sic] of the business is Sean Sisson. Netvantage Solutions offers intranet development, computer support, and software integration and Internet services and is located at 7454 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, De.

8. Your Affiant completed a search for 7454 Lancaster Pike ... and found that this address is a Mailboxes Etc. Mailboxes Etc. offers mailboxes "drop boxes" that a person may rent.

The affidavit included background information on email and the use of computers and the internet with child pornography. It also included statements that the DSP detectives made based on their "training and experience" that:

The majority of individuals who collect child pornography rarely, if ever, dispose of their sexually explicit materials and may go to great lengths to conceal and protect from discovery, theft, and damage their collections of illicit materials .... [U]nder the relevant case law, information in support of probable cause in child pornography cases is less likely to be stale because collectors and traders are known to store and retain their collections for extended periods of time, usually in their home and/or computer [citing cases].

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Based on this information, the DSP detectives requested a warrant to search the defendant's residence for evidence of Unlawfully Dealing in Child Pornography and Possession of Child Pornography. A magistrate reviewed the application and authorized the search warrant. The detectives executed the warrant on March 24, 2004, seizing a number of items from the defendant's home, including his business computer. As the trial judge elaborated:

On this computer, detectives found several hundred pornographic images of prepubescent children engaged in various sex acts with adult males. After being Mirandized, ... Sisson admitted that all of the child pornography on his business computer belonged to him. He also admitted that he transmitted pornographic images of children to other individuals who collect and view these images via the Internet. He further admitted that several of the images on his computer were of his thirteen year old daughter.2

Sisson was arrested and charged with ten counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child,3 numerous counts of Dealing in Child Pornography4 and numerous counts of Possession of Child Pornography.5 Before trial, Sisson moved to suppress the evidence seized pursuant to the warrant on the ground that the affidavit supporting the application for the warrant failed to establish probable cause. The trial judge denied the motion.6 Sisson also moved to dismiss nine of the ten counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child as multiplicitous. The trial judge denied this motion as well.7 The trial judge did, however, grant Sisson's motion to sever the Sexual Exploitation of a Child counts from the other child pornography counts. After a bench trial, the trial judge found Sisson guilty of six of the ten counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child.8 Sisson now appeals arguing that the trial judge erred by denying his motions.

THE AFFIDAVIT ESTABLISHED PROBABLE CAUSE TO SEARCH

Before the trial judge, and again before this Court, Sisson made three arguments for why the affidavit failed to establish probable cause. First, he argued that the affidavit only indicated when AOL "discovered" the email rather than when the email was "transmitted." Thus, it was impossible to determine when the crime was actually committed and, therefore, impossible to conduct a staleness analysis. Consequently, the information in the affidavit was ipso facto stale. Second, Sisson argued that the police recklessly omitted information on email "spoofing" and that this information, if it had been included, would have vitiated the probable cause determination.9 Finally, Sisson argued that his AOL username insufficiently linked him and his residence to the digital

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picture discovered. The trial judge rejected these contentions, as do we. Our reasons follow.

Probable Cause Generally

Under the Delaware and the United States Constitutions, "a search warrant may be issued only upon a showing of probable cause."10 An affidavit in support of a search warrant must, within the four-corners of the affidavit, set forth facts adequate for a judicial officer to form a reasonable belief that an offense has been committed and the property to be seized will be found in a particular place.11 In determining whether probable cause to obtain a search warrant exists, we apply a totality of the circumstances test.12 Thus, a magistrate may find probable cause when, considering the...

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93 practice notes
  • State v. Ranken, Criminal Action Nos. IN–10–02–0964 thru IN–10–02–0973
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Delaware
    • October 19, 2010
    ...supra p. 859 and State v. Sampson, 765 A.2d at 631, fn. 2. FN95. Fink v. State, 817 A.2d 781, 786 (Del.2003). FN96. Sisson v. State, 903 A.2d 288 (Del.2006). FN97. Gardner v. State, 567 A.2d 404, 409 (Del.1989). FN98. Jensen v. State, 482 A.2d 105, 111 (Del.1984). FN99. Smith v. State, 887 ......
  • Com. v. Davidson, No. 34 MAP 2005.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 20, 2007
    ...the statute []. . . . Each picture is a crime against the child depicted as well as an offense to society."); accord Sisson v. State, 903 A.2d 288, 310 (Del.2006); State 938 A.2d 220 v. Farnham, 752 So.2d 12, 14-15 (Fla.Dist. Ct.App.2000) (defendant may be charged separately for possession ......
  • Everett v. State, No. 257, 2017
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • May 29, 2018
    ...the Fourth Amendment requires that a hearing be held at the defendant's request." Id. at 155–56, 98 S.Ct. 2674 ; see Sisson v. State , 903 A.2d 288, 300 (Del. 2006) ("If the police omit facts that are material to a finding of probable cause with reckless disregard for the truth, then the ra......
  • Wallace v. State, No. 229, 2007.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • August 1, 2008
    ...(Del.Supr.); Mathis v. State, 2006 WL 2434741, at *3 (Del.Supr.); Randall v. State, 2006 WL 2434912, at *3 (Del.Supr.); Sisson v. State, 903 A.2d 288, 313 n. 113 (Del.2006); Smith v. State, 913 A.2d 1197, 1232 n. 79 (Del.2006); Mills v. State, 2006 WL 1027202, at *4 n. 23 (Del.Supr.). See a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
93 cases
  • State v. Ranken, Criminal Action Nos. IN–10–02–0964 thru IN–10–02–0973
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Delaware
    • October 19, 2010
    ...supra p. 859 and State v. Sampson, 765 A.2d at 631, fn. 2. FN95. Fink v. State, 817 A.2d 781, 786 (Del.2003). FN96. Sisson v. State, 903 A.2d 288 (Del.2006). FN97. Gardner v. State, 567 A.2d 404, 409 (Del.1989). FN98. Jensen v. State, 482 A.2d 105, 111 (Del.1984). FN99. Smith v. State, 887 ......
  • Com. v. Davidson, No. 34 MAP 2005.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 20, 2007
    ...the statute []. . . . Each picture is a crime against the child depicted as well as an offense to society."); accord Sisson v. State, 903 A.2d 288, 310 (Del.2006); State 938 A.2d 220 v. Farnham, 752 So.2d 12, 14-15 (Fla.Dist. Ct.App.2000) (defendant may be charged separately for possession ......
  • Everett v. State, No. 257, 2017
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • May 29, 2018
    ...the Fourth Amendment requires that a hearing be held at the defendant's request." Id. at 155–56, 98 S.Ct. 2674 ; see Sisson v. State , 903 A.2d 288, 300 (Del. 2006) ("If the police omit facts that are material to a finding of probable cause with reckless disregard for the truth, then the ra......
  • Wallace v. State, No. 229, 2007.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • August 1, 2008
    ...(Del.Supr.); Mathis v. State, 2006 WL 2434741, at *3 (Del.Supr.); Randall v. State, 2006 WL 2434912, at *3 (Del.Supr.); Sisson v. State, 903 A.2d 288, 313 n. 113 (Del.2006); Smith v. State, 913 A.2d 1197, 1232 n. 79 (Del.2006); Mills v. State, 2006 WL 1027202, at *4 n. 23 (Del.Supr.). See a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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