Conviction of former Peoria police officer thrown out by appellate court

Local News

OTTAWA, Ill. — The conviction of a former Peoria police officer on multiple charges for possession of child porn has been overturned by the Illinois 3rd District Appellate Court.

The justices voted 2-1 in favor of the defendant, 38-year-old John McCavitt. He was found guilty in Peoria County court of 15 counts of child pornography in 2016. McCavitt was sentenced to five years in prison and four years of probation for the crimes.

Before his conviction, McCavitt was previously found not guilty of sexual assault charges in a separate case. His computer hard drive was seized and copied as part of that case through a warrant. The child pornography images found on McCavitt’s computer were discovered by the Peoria Police Department after the previous case against him had been resolved.

McCavitt and his attorneys filed a motion to suppress evidence in the child pornography case saying the search of his computer at that time was unlawful. That motion was denied and the case went to trial.

McCavitt’s appeal to the appellate court argued the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress, he was denied effective assistance of counsel, the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence at trial and the prosecutor’s statements during closing arguments warrant reversal.

The appellate court ruling in favor of McCavitt’s appeal says his fourth amendment rights were violated. The fourth amendment protects the rights of people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ruling says Peoria Police Detective James Feehan searched the hard drive copied for the first trial eight months after McCavitt was found not guilty. That is when the child pornography images were discovered. The appellate ruling says once the first trial as over, McCavitt could again expect he had the right to privacy in the contents of his computer. It says since Feehan did not get a new warrant McCavitt’s privacy was violated.

The written ruling says Detective Feehan should have known that police had no right to retain, much less search the copy of McCavitt’s hard drive. The ruling says the evidence should have been suppressed in the case.

Justices Tom Lytton and Mary McDade voted in favor of McCavitt. Justice Vicki Wright said the previous convictions should be upheld. She argued Feehan acted in good faith because he obtained a new warrant after finding the images.

The case now goes back to Peoria County court where a potential new trial for McCavitt could await.

McCavitt’s attorney, Joshua Kutnick says the State’s Attorney could either dismiss the case or appeal it to the Supreme Court.

“The Appellate Court found that Detective James Feehan violated the rights of my client, John McCavitt, the 4th amendment rights. By searching his computer hard drive without authority,” Kutnick said.

“The state’s attorney’s office has a choice to make. They could either dismiss the case now because they have no further evidence, or they could appeal this ruling,” Kutnick added.

It’s unsure when McCavitt will appear in court next. We will keep you all updated when we learn more information.

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