How do I find out what happened to a friend who was arrested for something terrible?
July 24, 2010 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I just found out my friend got arrested two months ago for flying into the US with (allegedly) child pornography on his laptop. Nobody's heard from him since. How do I find out what's happening without getting dragged into it?

He was arrested by Immigration & Customs Enforcement in Detroit. If he did what they say he did -- and in the criminal complaint, it sounds bad -- he deserves whatever he gets. But it truly seems 100% out of character, and I do believe in innocent until proven guilty. How can I determine his status and location, and maybe contact him, without being suspected myself via guilt through association?
posted by jgt246 to Law & Government (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Does the criminal complain list an attorney? You could contact his attorney (who won't tell you anything but may pass a message along). I know this won't be a popular thing to say here, but the police are not going to investigate you for child pornography simply because you inquired about a friend. Secondly, even if they do, it's not like you have child pornography (I assume).
posted by proj at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2010

Response by poster: Proj, no, the criminal complaint doesn't list an attorney. And no, I don't have any child porn. But I do live overseas, and I would rather not end up on some on watch list that means I get hassled every time I fly into the US.
posted by jgt246 at 9:02 AM on July 24, 2010

Best answer: If you look on PACER --- the federal courts online case information system --- there should be a complete case history for the prosecution, which I am assuming has already started. There should be a defense attorney of record listed. You can create a PACER account pretty routinely; you can start by finding the US District Court where he's being prosecuted and looking on its website for PACER information. You need to supply a credit card to be billed for the access, but for as little info as you need, the cost will be negligible (less than a dollar).

Then, you can contact his attorney and try to get a message to your friend.

Federal bail amounts tend to be on the low side, so chances are very high that your friend is out on bond if he's in the country. My guess is that your friend is keeping a low profile out of shame and embarrassment, not because he's locked in some federal detention facility.
posted by jayder at 9:03 AM on July 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

You won't end up on any watch lists -- you are way, way over-estimating the amount of coordination between federal agencies and also the intentional malice of the judicial system. He's not locked away in Guantanamo, he's probably just lying low, as jayder says.
posted by proj at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2010

Response by poster: jayder, PACER delivered as promised, thanks. Unfortunately it wasn't what I wanted to hear. He was denied bail as a "flight risk" and "danger to the community." And the indictment is pretty ugly. But I do have the contacts for his federal public defender. Now I just need to figure out what to say to someone I thought I knew who's charged with something so foul.
posted by jgt246 at 5:42 PM on July 24, 2010

Well, until you hear the evidence for yourself and until/unless there is an indictment, your friend is "innocent" until proven guilty. That being said, if I were you, I personally would probably err on the side of my friend quite possibly being guilty (he must have had some child porn on his computer or whatever and it's unlikely it was planted there...) so I would be cautious.

If he ends up being found guilty, well, is there a reason to say anything to him? I would personally just cut all ties with him and move on with my life (heck, I've done it for far lesser reasons).
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:46 PM on July 24, 2010

Well, don't jump to conclusions yet. Check out this case, where a man was charged based on the guess of Customs agents that a porn actress was underage when that was not the case at all.
posted by Menthol at 3:38 AM on July 25, 2010

You need not worry about getting dragged into it -- what you are asking for is public information. (If you weren't overseas, you could just call the clerk's office in the federal courthouse in Detroit and ask for what you need.) I don't mean to freak you out, but as someone who handles some of these cases, I'm not sure it's fair to say he deserves whatever he gets -- this wasn't even a federal crime until the 1990s and now people can be looking at 10-20 years, even as first-time offenders, depending on what type and quantity of images. At the other end of the spectrum, I've seen cases dismissed because what ICE thinks is child pornography really isn't, or it wasn't knowingly possessed, or many other things you wouldn't expect. The criminal complaint is not proof -- a grand jury hasn't even indicted your friend yet when it's filed -- it's essentially the officer's version of the facts. This has been a federal enforcement priority for a few years, and Washington grades US Attorneys on how many of these cases they prosecute and obtain convictions on, which can lead to some overzealous prosecutions.

PACER will tell you if he's out on bond (these cases frequently get bond), and what proceedings are set next.
posted by *s at 1:09 PM on July 25, 2010

Sorry, just saw your update -- I know folks in the Detroit FPD's office -- they really know what they're doing, but probably don't have time to talk to you. If I can help answer questions, feel free to memail me.
posted by *s at 1:13 PM on July 25, 2010

« Older Name that electro tune   |   I need to have these sunglasses. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.