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United States v. Oreckinto

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 10, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ANDREW ORECKINTO, Defendant.

          RULING DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE GOVERNMENT EXHIBIT #201V

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The advent of the Internet has posed any number of new legal questions, including whether evidence taken from a search of the Internet is admissible at trial. Suppose, for example, that a police officer runs a Google search and finds an image that is relevant to proving the identity of someone who committed a crime. Is the Internet image admissible without further independent verification or testimony from the source of the image at trial?

         That is pretty much the question posed here. And the answer-as for many questions of evidence law-is that it depends on the context and purpose for which an Internet image is offered into evidence.

         In this case, the police found an Internet image of the type of logo-branded sweatshirt believed to have been worn by a burglar while thieving cigarettes late one night from a commercial warehouse. Because a surveillance video showed that the burglar wore a mask, the type of clothing that the burglar wore was important to identifying who the burglar was. For reasons I explain below, I conclude that if the type of clothing worn by a criminal defendant is important to establishing his identity as the perpetrator of a crime, then an Internet image of clothing that is allegedly the same or similar to the type of clothing worn by the defendant is properly admissible at trial.

         Background

         This case that is presently in mid-trial involves a burglary of thousands of cartons of cigarettes that occurred in March 2011 at a warehouse in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Surveillance video from inside the warehouse shows that the burglar was someone wearing a mask and otherwise dressed in mostly black clothing. There is no dispute that someone burglarized the warehouse, and the focus of trial has been on whether the culprit was the defendant Andrew Oreckinto.

         Among several ways in which the Government has sought to implicate Mr. Oreckinto as the burglar is evidence about what clothing the burglar wore. A somewhat grainy photograph derived from the warehouse's surveillance video (Exhibit #201W) shows that the burglar was wearing black clothing on his upper body that had the stylized letters “SP” emblazoned across the chest:

Image Omitted

         Another one of the Government's exhibits (Exh. #201S) is a photograph of Mr. Oreckinto casually sitting on a motorcycle and facing the camera:

Image Omitted

         This photograph was obtained by law enforcement from the Facebook page of Mr. Oreckinto's spouse, and it was admitted without objection at trial. The photograph shows Mr. Oreckinto wearing a Harley Davidson black leather jacket and with at least two layers of clothing underneath. One of those layers is a zipped-down hooded sweatshirt. Although only the interior edges of the sweatshirt are visible in the photograph, it is enough to see that the sweatshirt is black and that it bears some kind of stylized white lettering or design that could be consistent with the type of sweatshirt worn by the masked burglar as shown in the surveillance video.

         In order to help the jury make a comparison between what the masked burglar wore and what Mr. Oreckinto wore while sitting on his motorcycle, the Government offered at trial certain images derived from the Internet (Exhibit #201V) of the distinctive type and logo-branded sweatshirt that it contends that both the burglar and Mr. Oreckinto were wearing:

(Image Omitted)

         The lead detective testified at trial that he found these images by means of an Internet search.[1]According to the detective, after he identified the block letters “SP” on the burglar's clothing as shown in the surveillance video, he ran an Internet search for black-and-white hooded “SP” sweatshirts, and the search came up with images depicting a “SouthPole” brand type of sweatshirt. The detective did this Internet search within a week or two of the burglary. The detective knew “SouthPole” to be a commercial brand of clothing, but was unclear whether he recovered the images from ...


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