Third Circuit Affirms New Sentence for Shipping Child Pornography and False Statements- U.S. v. Ward
Federal authorities have a lot of tools at their disposal when it comes to child pornography crimes. Even when criminal conduct takes place in another country, the defendant can still be charged criminally for related acts in the United States. In United States v. Ward, Lawrence Ward of Pennsylvania was charged with shipping child pornography in interstate commerce, making false statements to federal officers, and attempting to induce a minor to engage in sexual conduct, via online communications. Ward was originally caught in possession of child pornography when he returned from a trip to Brazil. It was later discovered that he was having sex with two minors in that country and emailing them to request pictures of specific sex acts; he attempted to help one get a U.S. tourist visa. The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his sentence.
Ward was originally arrested at Dulles International Airport; he was eventually convicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for possession of child pornography. A search of his office at the Wharton School of Business (where he was a professor emeritus) found photos and videos of Ward having sex with the Brazilian minors J.D. and R.D. His email showed messages to the minors asking them to perform specific sex acts, including acts with men chosen by Ward, and that Ward was paying J.D.’s family. Earlier that year, Ward had also attempted to get J.D. a visa to the U.S., and incorrectly told officials J.D.’s family was rich and he was therefore a low risk for overstaying his visa. This resulted in charges in Pennsylvania as well: two charges of transporting child pornography, one count of false statements to a federal official, and two of inducing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct.
Ward eventually pleaded guilty in both jurisdictions, receiving 15 years in Virginia and 25 in Pennsylvania. On a prior appeal, the Third Circuit sent the case back for resentencing because the judge didn’t impose a separate sentence for each count of the indictment. During the appeal, Ward maintained contact with the Brazilian minors and broke prison rules. At resentencing the district court required Ward to take an oath if he wished to make a statement. His new sentence was still 25 years, but increased his fine from $100,000 to $250,000 and also imposed an order to avoid contact with anyone under 18.
On his new appeal, Ward raised seven issues, none of which impressed the Third Circuit. He first argued that the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure give him the right to deliver an unsworn statement. This was a novel question and one of first impression, the Third Circuit said, but it ultimately concluded there is no such right. The increase of the fine was not revenge against Ward for seeking resentencing, the Third said, in part because it was a correction from the prior appeal. There was sufficient evidence to show a pattern of prohibited sexual conduct, the court noted; thus, it was reasonable to enhance his Guidelines level. There was a sufficiently detailed explanation for the district court’s very high sentence, the Third ruled, and the court did not fail to take into account mitigating factors like Ward’s age. The 25-year sentence was not substantively unreasonable, the court added, and Ward lacks standing to challenge the lack of a restitution order.
Though the Third Circuit didn’t spend much time on it, I’d like to pull out one of the issues in the appeal: the substantive reasonableness of a 25-year prison sentence given Ward’s age and health. The opinion doesn’t seem to specify his age, but it did note that he was a professor emeritus (a position for people at or near retirement) and that he had been diagnosed with leukemia. The Third Circuit said, “the fact that Ward may die in prison does not mean his sentence is unreasonable.” That may be true, legally speaking, but it’s very sad. In light of cases like this, it’s worth asking what the goal of these very long sentences in child sex crimes is. Keeping people in prison until they die may serve the goal of protecting society, but it also seems a lot like revenge. That’s an unsavory and inappropriate goal for our justice system.
Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients across the United States who are accused of serious cyber crimes involving technology and the Internet. If you’d like to talk to us about your rights and your legal options, call us toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333), 24 hours a day and seven days a week, or send us an email.
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