Police blotter: Flap over nude photos of Cameron Diaz

In this week's installment, computer forensics is key to a case over nude photos of the actress.

"Police blotter" is a weekly CNET News.com report on the intersection of technology and the law.

What: Man who took nude photos of a young Cameron Diaz and claimed to have a valid model release appealed conviction for forgery.

When: California state appeals court ruled on Oct. 16.

Outcome: The appeals court upheld the conviction of photographer John Rutter.

What happened, according to court documents:

Before Cameron Diaz was a Hollywood starlet known for movies such as "Charlie's Angels," Jim Carrey's "The Mask," and "Shrek," she was a model who occasionally posed topless for photographs.

Cameron Diaz
Credit: Columbia
Cameron Diaz

When Diaz was 19 years old, she posed for John Rutter, a well-known photographer who did not pay her for photos but swapped his time in exchange for giving her prints. Some of these photos were topless, and Diaz claims she never signed a model release giving Rutter the rights to use them commercially.

Eleven years later, just prior to the release of "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," Rutter contacted Diaz and offered to sell Diaz the pictures from that shoot for $3.5 million. The photos included her wearing leather boots and fishnet stockings. Rutter claimed to have a model release and would eventually submit a sworn statement saying: "Ms. Diaz's signature on the model release is not a forgery or a phony as Ms. Diaz claims."

Police Blotter isn't going to link to any nude Diaz photos. (We figure that anyone who cares enough can figure out how to use a search engine.)

Diaz contacted the cops, Rutter's apartment was raided and his computers were seized. Prosecution experts testified at trial that Diaz's signature on the releases found in Rutter's computers and CD-ROMs had been forged, and a jury convicted him of attempted grand theft, forgery and perjury.

The case becomes relevant to Police Blotter because of evidence from Rutter's computers that was used as evidence by the prosecution. His attorneys argued on appeal that receiving a 113-page report from the prosecution's computer consultant just five days before the trial was inappropriate and damaging.

The defense attorney argued that until that 113-page report became available, he thought the only computer-related evidence of the alleged forgery was on CD-ROMs. But the report pointed to the laptop's hard drive as well.

The appeals court, on the other hand, said the objection was not relevant (for one thing, the defense attorneys had access to the seized laptops as well) and upheld Rutter's conviction. He is serving a four-year prison sentence.

Excerpts from the opinion by the California Court of Appeal (2nd District):

Rutter moved to exclude any expert opinion testimony derived from the contents of the laptop on the ground prosecution's late disclosure of such testimony unfairly prejudiced his defense. Rutter did not contend the prosecution had acted in bad faith, and he conceded the prosecutor turned over the report "the minute he got it."

He also acknowledged his own expert had access to and examined the same computers as the prosecution's expert. Rutter maintained, however, none of this was relevant. Prejudice did not arise from being denied access to the computers or to the report, he argued, but from being denied access to the expert's opinion the computer's hard drive showed evidence of the forgery. He explained that up until the time he reviewed the expert's report the prosecution's discovery disclosures led him to believe the only computer-related evidence of the alleged forgery was contained on the CD-ROMs seized from his apartment. Rutter intended to counter this evidence with evidence someone other than he placed the allegedly forged document on those disks. New evidence that the forged document was found on Rutter's laptop undercut this defense because it tied the forged model release directly to Rutter.

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