Seventh Circuit Rules Downward Departure Acceptable for Child Porn Defendant – U.S. v. Adams

August 1, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

A federal appeals ruling about a child pornography trafficking defendant caught my eye as a cyber crime criminal defense attorney. In United States v. Adams, the sole question was whether Carl Adams of central Illinois should receive a lower sentence than the range imposed by the sentencing guidelines for his crime. Adams contended that his sentence should have been even lower, but the judge was improperly influenced by a mistaken belief that child pornography defendants “suffer from an uncontrollable illness.” The government had argued for a sentence at the bottom of the sentencing guidelines, which was higher than the one Adams received. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the judge did not make a mistake and let the sentence stand.

Adams was originally identified by Florida FBI agents searching for child pornography through LimeWire, an online file-sharing program. They alerted Illinois law enforcement officers, who got a search warrant and found ample child pornography on two computers belonging to Adams. He eventually pleaded guilty to using the Internet to traffic in child pornography. At his sentencing, he argued for a low sentence, citing his service in the Air Force, lack of a criminal record and steady employment, as well as studies concluding that viewing child pornography does not make the offender more likely to commit “hands-on” or “contact” offenses against minors. At the sentencing, the district judge opined that looking at child pornography is an uncontrollable illness beyond the viewer’s control, and thus he was not confident that Adams would not reoffend. He then sentenced Adams to 180 months (15 years) in prison, longer than the five years Adams requested but beneath the 210 months (18 years) requested by the government.

Adams appealed, arguing that the judge incorrectly relied on unsupported beliefs when sentencing him. The Seventh Circuit did not agree. There was no evidence in the record that the judge was making a finding of mental illness, the court said. In fact, it said, the trial judge went on to say that he was basing the sentence in large part on the need to deter other offenders who might think twice about looking at child pornography. Indeed, the Seventh noted, if the judge believed looking at child porn is an illness beyond control, it would make no sense to try deterring future offenders. And while the judge didn’t specifically address the studies Adams brought up, he was not required to do so; and he did acknowledge that Adams was unlikely to commit a “contact” offense in the future. Thus, the Seventh affirmed the 180-month sentence.

Although this decision did not go the defendant’s way, I still believe there are lessons here for child pornography criminal defense lawyers and their clients. For one thing, it’s unfortunately not unusual for prosecutors, judges and jurors to make the kinds of comments cited in this opinion. Some people are not able to separate their personal feelings from the jobs they have in the criminal justice system, and when they make comments that are judgmental or disgusted, they can subvert the trial. This would be an appropriate reason for appeal if it were the sole basis for imposing a high sentence. As a child porn criminal defense attorney, I sometimes make strategic decisions about juries especially to avoid this kind of situation.

If you’re accused of a serious cyber crime, especially child pornography crimes, don’t hesitate to call the experienced cyber crime attorneys at Seltzer Law, P.A. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message online or call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

Similar blog posts:

Sixth Circuit Rules Defendant Cannot Be Sentenced Twice for Possession and Receipt of Child Porn – U.S. v. Ehle

South Dakota Supreme Court Rules 100-Year Child Porn Sentence Is Unconstitutional

Appeals Court Overturns Sentence Based on Faulty Science in Child Pornography Case