Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Double Jeopardy Claim Falls Short on Deferential Habeas Review

In the habeas matter of Wilkerson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI, Nos. 15-1598 & 15-2673, the Third Circuit defers to a state court determination that the defendant’s conviction of both an attempted murder count and an aggravated assault count based on the same altercation did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.
The evidence was that during the altercation, the defendant both struck the victim in the head with a gun and shot him in the chest. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld consecutive sentences on the theory that the evidence was sufficient to permit a jury to find the striking to support one count and the shooting the other. Despite the jury instructions’ and verdict form’s failure to require each of these discrete findings, the Third Circuit holds that the state court’s reasoning was sound enough to withstand deferential review the AEDPA’s “clearly established Federal law” limitation. “[W]here the jury instructions were merely ambiguous and did not foreclose the jury…

Mailing Threatening Communications is a Crime of Violence and a Judicial Proposal for Reform of the Categorical Approach

In United States v. Chapman, __F.3d__, No. 16-1810, 2017 WL 3319287 (3d Cir. Aug. 4, 2017), the Third Circuit held that mailing a letter containing any threat to injure the recipient or another person in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) qualifies as a crime of violence for the purposes of the career offender enhancements of the Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1(a).The Court acknowledged in a footnote that the analysis is the same for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 871, threats against the president.

The Court began its analysis by reviewing the definition of “crime of violence” and specifically the meaning of the words “use” and “physical force.”Quoting United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405 (2014), and Tran v. Gonzales, 414 F.3d 464 (3d Cir. 2005), it defined “use” as “the intentional employment of force, generally to obtain some end,” which conveys the notion that the thing used “has become the user’s instrument.” The Court confirmed the definition of “physical force” as “force ca…

A Traffic Stop Followed by a Summons is not an Intervening Arrest for Sentencing Guidelines Purposes

In United States v. Ley, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 5618617 (3d Cir., Nov. 22, 2017), the Third Circuit held that a traffic stop, followed by the issuance of a summons, is not an intervening arrest for the purpose of calculating a defendant’s prior convictions under USSG § 4A1.2(a)(2).   Defendant John Francis Ley received two speeding tickets on two consecutive days.  After writing each ticket, the police released Ley and informed him that the matter would proceed via summons.  No arrest was made and Ley was sentenced for both matters on the same day. The District Court, however, held that the issuance of the summons constituted an intervening arrest for the purposes of the Guidelines and each ticket therefore merited an individual criminal history point.  Ley appealed.  Looking at the ordinary meaning of both “arrest” and “summons,” as well as the Supreme Court’s history of distinguishing arrests from other interactions with law enforcement, the Third Circuit, joining three other circuits …