Judge tosses out primary evidence in child pornography case
A Carnegie man who said he was being prosecuted for trying to help police nab sexual predators online scored a victory in court Tuesday when a judge tossed out the primary evidence against him.
A state police search of Ty Grabowski's computer was improper because it was based on outdated information, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lawrence J. O'Toole ruled. The 34 deleted images of child pornography state police said they found on Grabowski's computer, therefore, could not be used in court.
"It's pretty much over at this point," said Grabowski's defense attorney, P. Christopher Hoffman.
The district attorney's office has 30 days to appeal O'Toole's ruling or drop the 34 counts of possession of child pornography it filed against Grabowski in April 2002.
Grabowski, 37, said last month that he was on a personal crusade to track down child porn and predators on the Internet and report them to police. According to state police Trooper John LaRoche, Grabowski reported more than 50 cases of suspected Internet child porn to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Grabowski said he also reported cases to other law enforcement agencies.
In June 2001, Grabowski called LaRoche to report that, while posing as a 12-year-old girl in an Internet chat room, a man had propositioned him to meet and have sex. LaRoche arrested that man, although the charges were later dropped by a judge.
In November, LaRoche served a search warrant on Grabowski's computer. In his affidavit for the warrant, LaRoche wrote that the computer would "most likely contain images of child pornography," given Grabowski's frequent reporting to police.
Hoffman argued that the warrant was too vague and that the information in it was "stale" because so much time had passed since Grabowski's call. O'Toole apparently agreed.
"Basically, (LaRoche) was acting on a hunch," Hoffman said. "The hunch was right, but not legal."
O'Toole did not rule on a constitutional issue Hoffman raised, in which he questioned whether child pornography laws should apply to those trying to help police.
State law allows people to possess child porn only for "bona fide educational, scientific, governmental or judicial" purposes. Grabowski is not a police officer.
"Given the unwieldy nature of the Internet and the fact that it's so hard to police because it's so vast, do you want to allow citizens to help law enforcement or completely bar them from it?" Hoffman said. "It's a very interesting issue that the courts may have to address at some point."