When Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum were arrested on murder charges for the murder of 2-year-old foster child Laila, Henry County police seized their iPhones, MacBook and iPad and placed them in the property room.
On May 26, 2017 — 539 days later — state prosecutors obtained search warrants so they could look through the electronic devices. And authorities found what they believe is incriminating evidence, court records say.
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments in the high-profile case as to whether the almost 18-month-long delay between the seizure and the search warrants was so long it violated the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
State prosecutors are appealing a ruling by Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero, who in February found the lengthy delay to be unconstitutional. He granted a defense motion to suppress the evidence.
Based on many of the questions asked by justices during Monday’s arguments, Amero’s ruling may very well withstand the state’s challenge. A decision is expected later this year.
It’s unclear how critical the information obtained off the electronic devices is to the state’s case, but prosecutors likely would not have appealed Amero’s ruling if they didn’t think it was important evidence.
Laila Marie Daniel died Nov. 17, 2015, of a blunt-force blow to her abdomen that ruptured her pancreas, authorities have said. Jennifer Rosenbaum, herself a former foster child, has said that Laila died after she began choking on a piece of chicken and after Rosenbaum performed the Heimlich maneuver on the child.
But EMTs noticed other bruising on the girl’s body, and an autopsy revealed injuries that were months old.
At the time, Rosenbaum was a candidate for the Henry County commission and a third-year law student who’d worked as an intern in the Henry County District Attorney’s Office. Her husband, Joseph, was a correctional officer in Spalding County.
Jennifer Rosenbaum faces malice and felony murder charges, as well as child cruelty, aggravated assault and aggravated battery. Joseph Rosenbaum is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly leaving Laila in his wife’s care when he knew she was abusing the child. Both have pleaded not guilty and are out on bond.
Because the Henry County DA recused himself from the case, it is being handled by prosecutors from Cobb and DeKalb counties.
On Monday, Cobb prosecutor Chuck Boring asked the justices to overturn Amero’s ruling so that information found on the Rosenbaums’ electronic devices could be used against them at trial.
“Lengthy delay does not equal unreasonable,” said Boring. He noted that an appeals court in New York allowed a 13-month delay between the time evidence was seized and when it was searched. Anotherin St. Louis allowed a one-year delay.
But that didn’t appear to placate Justice Michael Boggs.
“How long would you suggest that law enforcement could have kept these items without an admission on the record that, ‘We are not really interested in pursuing this.’ There’s no sense of urgency here?” he asked. “How long could you keep the items?
The U.S. Supreme Court has not set a bright-line rule, Boring responded.
Justice Nels Peterson jumped in.
Just because the high court has not set a deadline, that doesn’t mean any delay is acceptable, he said. “What if it had been pending for 10 years?”
That would be a problem, Boring conceded.
Justice David Nahmias joined in. “Your best case out of the millions of seizures in this country is 13 months, and we’ve got to go 50 percent, almost, past it,” he said to the prosecutor, referring to the almost 18-month delay in the Rosenbaum case.
“You have to go way past that,” Boring acknowledged.
Nahmias then addressed the state’s explanation for the delay — there were changing prosecutors and miscommunication among the law enforcement officers on the case.
“My understanding of how the Fourth Amendment works is there’s a prosecution team,” Nahmias said. “Everybody who’s prosecuting the case and everybody on the law enforcement side are the same for purposes of things like this.”
Boggs then noted that while state has said the lead detective on the case didn’t know the electronic items existed, there were other officers who did know about them.
Corinne Mull, who represents the Rosenbaums, said she had repeatedly asked prosecutors to return the electronic devices to her clients.
“There was no mistake here,” she told the justices. “It was no error. There was sheer neglect.”
The prosecution team waited 539 days before looking into its files to find the devices, said Mull, who asked the justices to uphold Amero’s ruling.
“Five hundred and thirty-nine days is outrageous and it is a dereliction of duty that is emblematic of an indifference to the rule of law,” she said.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.