Last week, the Delaware State Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the appeal by former Lewes pediatrician Earl Bradley of his conviction on charges he abused young patients was without merit.
“Earl Bradley will never walk out of prison,” assured Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, following the Court’s findings. “We are gratified by the clarity of the Court’s thoughtful and well-crafted decision and the finality that it brings to the legal process. Our job — to take care of the victims and their families as they heal from these unspeakable crimes — will never end.”
In June 2011, Bradley was found guilty by Sussex County Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. on all charges against him. He was subsequently sentenced to 14 consecutive life sentences in prison for the 14 counts of rape in the first-degree. He was also sentenced to an additional 164 years in prison for the five counts of assault in the second degree and five counts of sexual exploitation of a child.
Bradley’s attorneys appealed the Superior Court’s decision to the State Supreme Court in May 2012. Following the initial three-judge hearing, an en banc hearing was called for all members of the Court to hear the appeal.
In the appeal, Bradley’s attorney, public defender Robert Goff, argued that a warrant allowing police to search Bradley’s BayBees Pediatrics clinic in Lewes following claims of abuse did not give cause for searching exterior buildings on the property.
The appeal argued that it had not been established that the medical records pertaining to certain patients would be found in a digital format and that police exceeded the scope of the warrant by “by proceeding with a general search to locate and seize evidence without probable cause.”
That evidence included a digital thumb drive connected to a computer in an outbuilding Bradley used as an office. The drive contained files that helped convict Bradley on many of the charges initially filed against him.
In the Court’s 22-page opinion, dated Sept. 6, 2012, the judges ruled that they found that police acted reasonably in their search of Bradley’s medical practice.
“This was not a general, exploratory search prohibited by the United States and the Delaware Constitutions,” the ruling stated. “The police properly searched the white outbuilding identified in the warrant and the main office building for patient ‘files,’ whether in digital or paper format. When a detective encountered a depiction of crimes potentially outside the warrant’s scope, he immediately stopped his review and applied for another search warrant, which was issued before any further search was conducted. Accordingly, we conclude that Bradley’s claims lack merit.”
The Court also addressed Bradley’s argument that there was no probable cause to search the outbuildings on the property.
“The affidavit described other witnesses and complainants having stated that Bradley carried his patients around the office during their medical appointments. The father’s statement provided a reasonable basis to infer that Bradley carried patients to the outbuilding for medical examinations. Given this use and the proximity of the outbuilding to the main practice room, it also was reasonable to infer that Bradley used the space for medical examinations or office work,” they wrote, adding that, because Bradley had been witnessed carrying a patient to the buildings, it was reasonable to infer he was using those buildings for examinations or office work.
“The search warrant listed the ‘place’ to be searched as ‘BayBees Pediatrics, 18259 Coastal Highway, to include a white outbuilding, located on the property.’ Thus, the warrant did not expressly limit the search to any particular building(s) on the property… Under the circumstances, it was reasonable for the police officers executing the warrant to conclude that Building B was the white outbuilding. Building B was a separate building on the BayBees Pediatrics property with three white sides and a white entrance.”
Bradley’s attorneys also argued that there was no probable cause to establish a link between patient medical files and the allegations of inappropriate examinations.
“We disagree. The affidavit is replete with information that the complainants received vaginal examinations during routine medical visits. It is common sense to infer that a patient’s medical file would be relevant in determining whether the vaginal examinations were part of an appropriate course of treatment or whether instead they were a guise for improper sexual contact.”
It was also argued by Bradley’s attorneys that the warrant did not cover the seizure of any electronic media and that the police had no cause to assume medical files would be found on a thumb drive, or any other electronic device.
“The warrant did not limit the items subject to seizure to paper files,” noted the opinion. “It was reasonable for the police to continue the search on computers and digital storage devices for other files relating to the eight complainants. It also was reasonable to search for such files in Building B, given the averment that Bradley used that building in his medical practice… The search warrant also authorized a search of “files to include medical files” and did not limit the search to files that were plainly labeled as medical files.
“We refuse to interpret the warrant so narrowly as to hold that a digital file must have been labeled with the patient’s name or the exact date of a confirmed visit, and kept in a traditional text format, to permit review in these circumstances.”
The justices unanimously found all Bradley’s arguments to be without merit and upheld Carpenter’s original sentence.
Bradley’s next option for appeal is to federal court. No such appeal had been filed by the Coastal Point’s press deadline mid-week.