NAPLES, Fla. – On Robert Hinote’s computer, detectives found hundreds of child pornography files.
When they talked to Hinote, he confessed to hoarding the images and videos of children as young as 4 engaged in sex acts.
If a jury convicted him on all 275 child porn possession charges, he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of about 70 years in prison.
Yet in the coming days, possibly as soon as a Friday court hearing, Hinote, 41, formerly of East Naples, will be cleared, with all charges against him dropped.
Prosecutors said this week they’re planning to dismiss the case against Hinote, the result of Collier sheriff’s deputies illegally entering his home in 2010. Investigators said they had a strong case against Hinote, who has since moved to South Florida, but his prosecution fell apart when a judge tossed all the computer evidence because deputies failed to obtain a proper search warrant.
“There are certain guidelines set out in the laws and Constitution to protect the rights of citizens, and right to be secure in their house and property is one of the most sacred rights we have,” Hinote’s lawyer, Marquin Rinard, said this week.
The decision to throw out the evidence hinged on a unique set of circumstances.
In March 2010, deputies identified an Internet Protocol address used by Hinote’s neighbor as trafficking in child pornography. Deputies obtained a search warrant for the neighbor’s house, finding a wireless router that the neighbor said Hinote had installed and they shared.
When deputies discovered no child pornography at the neighbor’s home, their attention turned to Hinote. Two deputies, Sgt. Ken Becker and Detective Scott Rapisarda, knocked on Hinote’s front door and spoke with him on a front porch.
Deputies offered Hinote two options as they got a new search warrant: He could leave the house as it’s locked up, or he could go back into his home and a deputy would follow him in. Hinote, who’d been smoking marijuana with a female friend, let the deputies in, saying he had nothing to hide.
The deputies did not, however, tell Hinote he could tell them to go away until they had a new search warrant. Their concern, Rapisarda later said at a deposition, was they wanted to ensure “that there’s no evidence that’s going to be destroyed.”
Although Hinote invited the deputies in, he testified at a September 2013 hearing that he felt he had no other choice.
“They explained to me that they were going to come into my house had I said ‘yes,’ `no,’ maybe,’ any which way,” Hinote testified.
Prosecutors argued Hinote legally consented to the search.
Maresca, the assistant state attorney, noted Hinote asked, “Don’t you guys need a warrant?” when Becker and Rapisarda spoke with him on the front porch, an acknowledgement that he knew his rights. Hinote wasn’t pressured by deputies, Maresca said, and volunteered to cooperate throughout the search.
“The police were very professional to the defendant,” Maresca argued in September 2013. “They weren’t threatening him in any way.”
Ultimately, Shenko sided with Hinote, finding their lack of search warrant and front porch conversation constituted an illegal search.
Prosecutors appealed Shenko’s ruling to the Second District Court of Appeals, which affirmed Shenko’s decision without comment in early October.
Asked about the prospect of a confessed child pornography downloader avoiding prosecution, Maresca said “my personal opinion is not relevant.”
“We litigated the issue, we appealed the issue, the Second DCA ruled, and that’s why we have appellate courts for,” Maresca said.
Speaking in generalities, and not specifically about Hinote, Rinard said violations of state and federal laws by well-intended police occasionally lead to guilty defendants being set free.
“For the freedom we enjoy as Americans, that’s part of the price we pay,” Rinard said. “I’m not saying that applies in this case, though.”
Source: Naples Daily News