A former sheriff’s deputy in Wisconsin won’t face child pornography charges after a Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled that the search warrant that led to the discovery of the images on his computer contained an error.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports Judge John Markson dismissed the charges against Jeffrey Hilgers, 43, on Jan. 14 after ruling that the search warrant included a paragraph that was mistakenly inserted, authorizing the search of the computer for child pornography images.
Hilgers was arrested in August on the charges. At the time he was under investigation for a sexual assault by correctional staff charge for an improper relationship he was said to be having with a 43-year-old Madison woman who was serving out her sentence under electronic home monitoring.
Authorities claimed, according to a story from WISC News, that Hilgers met the woman while she was an inmate at the Dane County Jail and he was a corrections officer there. The couple’s relationship allegedly continued after she was released from the jail and placed on home monitoring. Prosecutors say that because he was still employed by the sheriff’s office and she was being monitored by that office, Hilgers still held a position of power over her.
The search warrant was initially written to search Hilgers' computer for evidence of that alleged improper relationship.
The judge hypothesized that it was a cut-and-paste error in the composition of the warrant that included a paragraph delineating a search for child pornography rather than for evidence of the relationship
But, in what an article from The Free Thought Project called a “staggering” coincidence, that mistake did yield more than 40 child pornography images.
Markson ruled those photos were not admissible and the charges of child pornography had to be dismissed.
“I do think that likely what happened was a result of cutting and pasting by using a warrant from a different case that involved child pornography,” Markson said during the hearing.
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Viste provided that explanation of the mistake to the judge. She said after the hearing that the dismissal of the seven child pornography charges would not affect the pending sexual assault case.
The search of Hilgers’ computer turned up no evidence of the relationship.
Hilgers’ attorney, Brian Hough, asked that the assault case be dropped in light of the error, but Markson denied the motion.
It was the second time a motion by Hough to dismiss the assault charge had been denied.
Hilgers and the woman with whom is accused of having the improper relationship have since married.
Hilgers resigned from his position with the sheriff’s office in August.