Oregon v. BrayAnnotate this Case
The factual issue at trial was whether, as the State contended, defendant Thomas Bray forcibly raped, sodomized, strangled and assaulted J, or, as defendant claimed, J’s injuries resulted from consensual “rough sex.” A preliminary legal issue was whether defendant could compel the production of evidence that he viewed as supportive of his position. After the encounter with defendant, J had used her computer to conduct a Google search and make journal entries about defendant and the encounter. Defendant sought to compel the production of that digital data: Defendant filed a motion to compel the State to use its authority under the federal Stored Communications Act (the SCA)to obtain J’s records from Google, and he issued a subpoena duces tecum requiring J to appear at trial and bring her computer with her. The trial court granted defendant’s motion to compel, and, after some time and a number of hearings, the state eventually sent Google a subpoena for the records. Google did not comply; it took the position that a search warrant was required. Frustrated with what he viewed as the state’s defiance of the court’s order and refusal to do what was necessary to get the Google information, defendant moved to dismiss the charges against him. The court, unhappy with the State’s delay and “resistance or reluctance” to comply with its order, but satisfied that the State had done all that the court could direct it to do, informed the parties that it would not require the State to obtain a search warrant and denied defendant’s motion to dismiss. The court then conducted a bench trial. J testified, but she did not produce her computer in response to defendant’s subpoena. On cross-examination, J told the court that she had “flattened” her computer and that it therefore no longer contained digital information. The court denied defendant’s motion for an order requiring J to bring the computer to court for a forensic examination and, at the trial’s completion, found defendant guilty. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of “defendant’s motion to compel the state to obtain J’s internet information” and its denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. However, it determined the trial court erred in denying defendant’s motion to enforce the subpoena duces tecum, vacated defendant’s convictions, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. On appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, defendant challenged the Court of Appeals’ rulings with respect to the Google records and the State’s failure to obtain them. The State also petitioned for review, challenging the Court of Appeals’ ruling with respect to defendant’s subpoena and its conclusion that defendant’s convictions must be vacated and the case remanded. The Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in failing to require J to produce her computer for forensic examination. “J’s computer could have contained evidence that could have provided for an effective cross-examination of J, who was the key witness in the state’s case.” The Court determined the trial court’s error was not harmless, and therefore defendant’s convictions were vacated, and the case remanded to the trial court to order J to produce her computer and subject it to forensic examination.