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Josh Duggar's attorneys seek dismissal of charges of child sexual abuse material

Duggar's attorneys argue that federal investigators failed to preserve potentially exculpatory evidence that could assist his defense.
Josh Duggar
Josh Duggar speaks at the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock on Aug. 29, 2014.Danny Johnston / AP file

Attorneys for former reality TV star Josh Duggar are seeking to have child sex abuse material charges against him dismissed because investigators failed to preserve evidence that they say could help his defense, court records show.

Duggar, 33, whose family was featured on the TLC reality show "19 Kids and Counting" from 2008 to 2015, was arrested and federally charged in late April with receiving and possessing child sexual abuse material in Arkansas. Some of the material he is alleged to have possessed depicted the sexual abuse of children younger than 12, federal officials have said.

Duggar has pleaded not guilty.

Duggar's attorneys claim in court filings seen by NBC News that investigators failed to preserve potentially "exculpatory evidence" and that the two acting secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security at the time of the investigation weren't properly appointed.

Duggar's attorneys say the charges stem from allegations of conduct involving a desktop computer from a business Duggar once owned and operated. The business was a car lot in Springdale, Arkansas, according to the court records, which were filed Friday in U.S. District Court for western Arkansas.

In November 2019, investigators with Homeland Security's Homeland Security Investigations division, commonly known as HSI, secured a federal search warrant for the lot, court records said. Authorities searched the cellphones of three witnesses, one of whom was described as a "person of interest," court records said. Investigators didn't find evidence of child pornography on the three phones, the filings said.

"The problem is that HSI may have not identified evidence of child pornography during the field examination of these devices — but failed to preserve other potentially exculpatory evidence," the filing said. "What happened here is as clear as it is troubling, the Government concluded the three devices they searched did not further its case against Duggar and therefore deprived Duggar of the opportunity to access this potentially exculpatory evidence."

Representatives of the Justice Department couldn't be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

Duggar's attorneys also argue that, while their client was under investigation, Kevin McAleenan and Chad Wolf were incorrectly installed as acting secretary of homeland security after Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned. The unlawful appointments merit dismissal, the attorneys said, according to records.

In May, Duggar was granted release from federal custody while awaiting trial.

The conditions of Duggan's release included electronic monitoring, a ban on speaking to his children without the supervision of his wife and a ban on using electronic devices. He must also live in a residence that doesn't have any children.

Duggar has been confined to the home of family friends who agreed to be his custodians during his release.

If he is convicted, Duggar could face a fine of $250,000 and a prison sentence of up to 20 years on each count.

The judge who oversaw terms of Duggar's release also referred to past allegations that Duggar molested his younger siblings when he was a teenager, which originally appeared in a 2015 In Touch magazine report. Duggar released a statement at the time saying he "acted inexcusably" and was "extremely sorry."

The Duggar family appeared to admit to the allegations in an interview with Fox News in 2015. His father, Jim Bob Duggar, said that his son touched the girls over and under their clothing as they slept and that he was "just curious about girls."

An Arkansas police report indicated that Duggar was investigated in 2006, when he was 18. He was never arrested or charged with any crime in connection with those allegations.