Friday, August 16, 2013

Graphic videos of child pornography are admissible and relevant to show knowledge despite defendant's offer to stipulate videos constituted child pornography

United States v. Finley, No. 12-2524 (Aug. 12, 2013): Defendant Craig Finley appealed his conviction for production, receipt, distribution, and possession of material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor and sentence of 50 years' imprisonment followed by lifetime supervised release. The Third Circuit affirmed.

(1) Graphic videos and images were admissible and relevant to show knowledge despite defendant's offer to stipulate that videos constituted child pornography.

Before the jury was selected, defense counsel offered to stipulate that the videos and images obtained from the computers in the defendant's apartment were, in fact, child pornography, on the condition that the government not show the videos and images to the jury. The government refused the stipulation. After personally reviewing each proposed exhibit, the district court concluded that the videos and images were relevant and that the possible prejudice in introducing the evidence was outweighed by its probative value. The government, over defendant's objection, showed the jury 13 video segments and two segments of child pornography.

The Third Circuit affirmed the district court's admission of the evidence. The Court agreed that the videos and images were probative of an essential element of the offense, namely, the defendant's knowledge that the videos and images contained child pornography. The Court also found that the district court properly exercised its discretion in admitting a small sampling of the videos and images obtained only after personally reviewing the admitted evidence, weighing any unfair prejudice against the probative value of the images, and cautioning potential jurors about the disturbing nature of the potential evidence as part of the jury selection process.

(2) District court did not err by instructing jury that a sleeping child can "engage in" sexually explicit conduct within the context of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a).

With respect to his conviction for producing material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor, the defendant argued that the district court erred in instructing jurors that a sleeping child can "engage in" sexually explicit conduct. He asserted that § 2251(a) requires the minor, as opposed to the perpetrator, to actively engage in sexually explicit conduct. The Third Circuit rejected this argument, holding that the plain language of the statute, public policy, and persuasive case law all compel the conclusion that active involvement on the part of a minor is not essential for a conviction under § 2251(a).

(3) Punishment for both receipt and distribution of material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor did not violate Double Jeopardy.

Finally, the defendant argued that the district court violated his double jeopardy rights by separately considering, for purposes of sentencing, his convictions for receiving and distributing material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor under 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2). While the Third Circuit agreed that the defendant's convictions were the same in law, because § 2252(a)(2) did not contain multiple subsections or separate clauses indicating separate crimes for receipt and distribution, the convictions were not the same in fact. The Court found that the defendant distributed certain images that he produced separate and apart from images he received, he received images that he did not possess, and he distributed different images that he already possessed, thus making multiple punishments permissible.

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