Child Porn Defendant Received Adequate Warning About Acting as Own Lawyer – U.S. v. Eads

September 9, 2013 by David S. Seltzer

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 50 years ago that people who are too poor to afford a criminal defense attorney should be appointed one at the expense of the government. That ruling was based on the unfortunate fact that it’s very difficult to succeed when you act as your own lawyer to defend yourself from criminal charges. Court cases are complex and require a specialized expertise that it’s difficult to acquire by studying law in your spare time. Even though courts give self-represented people some extra patience and sometimes extra chances, it’s very easy to miss an important deadline or misunderstand a rule and lose the case before he judge can even hear the merits. That’s why I was saddened but not disappointed to see an appeal from a pro se defendant rejected in United States v. Eads, a case out of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Christopher Eads of Indianapolis was caught sharing child pornography through a peer-to-peer file-sharing program scanned by the local police. They got a warrant and searched his home, ultimately recovering 6,937 images and more than thirty minutes of video. His wife told police that he claimed to be an undercover FBI agent who had to download child porn for work. From a jail telephone, Eads asked his wife to recant her statements and say a former houseguest had set him up. These acts formed the basis for charges for possessing and distributing child pornography; and witness tampering. Eads decided six days before trial to represent himself, triggering a hearing at which he was asked if he was sure and warned about the potential consequences. He went ahead, argued that the houseguest was responsible for the images, and was convicted on all counts. At trial, the jury saw photos and videos from his collection, over his objection, even though he’d already stipulated that they were child pornography.

On appeal, Eads argued that he should not have been permitted to represent himself. The Seventh Circuit rejected this argument, saying there was no indication that he had been coerced, was impaired in any way, or was unaware of the potential dangers of self-representation. He next argued that the child pornography shown to the jury was unnecessary, because he had already stipulated that they were child pornography, and inflammatory. Neither party expressly asked for the judge to review the images beforehand, but the Seventh found that he or she should have. It further agreed with Eads that the judge should have given more than a “bare-bones” explanation of why the material was admitted. However, the court said, the error was harmless because the images had value aside from being inflammatory. In particular, it cited one image that had text over it requesting sex with a child and listing Eads’s email address. And Eads would likely have been convicted anyway, the court said, because the evidence of his guilt was clear. Rejecting his other arguments, the court affirmed his conviction and sentence.

Eads was sentenced to 40 years in prison, which is not quite a life sentence for a 26-year-old defendant, but not far. Unfortunately, that’s not uncommon in child pornography crimes. That’s why it is absolutely vital to get the help of an experienced defense attorney when you face charges as serious as these. Though nothing is for sure, an experienced attorney may have been able to keep the jury from being shown the child pornography, which surely was inflammatory; the opinion noted that some jurors cried after seeing it. A lawyer could possibly also have convinced Eads that the evidence was too great for a trial, then negotiated a plea agreement considerably better than the 40 years Eads will now serve. At Seltzer Law, P.A., we have represented many defendants accused of serious cyber crimes and vigorously defend each case.

If you’re accused of a serious crime involving technology or the Internet, don’t wait to call the experienced cyber crime defense attorneys at Seltzer Law, P.A. For a free consultation, you can reach us online or call toll-free anytime at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

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