In the recently decided case, U.S. v. Flyer, No. 08-10580 (2-8-11), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that deletion of an image alone is insufficient evidence to support a conviction for knowing possession of child pornography on or about a certain date under US federal law.
In an undercover operation, the FBI had downloaded various files containing child porn through a file-sharing program, which were traced back to the defendant’s IP address. A search of the defendant’s residence produced a computer, on which child pornography was found in the “unallocated space” on the defendant’s hard-drive. Files found in unallocated space are files which have been deleted, but which can be viewed or accessed with special software. Based upon the government’s finding of child pornography files in the “unallocated” space on the defendant’s hard-drive, he was charged with possession of child pornography and convicted at trial.
On appeal, the defendant argued that evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction. The Ninth Circuit agreed, reversing his conviction. The court explained that the government had presented no evidence that the defendant knew that the files existed on the unallocated space of his computer’s hard-drive, or that he had the special software required to see or access the files. The Court also noted that there was no evidence that the defendant had “accessed, enlarged, or manipulated any of the charged images”, and that “he made no admission that he had viewed the charged images on or near the time alleged in the indictment.” Thus, because the only evidence supporting the defendant’s conviction was the deletion of an image (leaving it in the “unallocated space”), the Court determined that the evidence failed to support a conviction for possession of child pornography.