Sentencing/Post Conviction

6th Circuit upholds minimum child-porn sentence imposed after judge asks jurors for their opinion

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A federal judge didn’t err when he took jurors’ views into account and sentenced a child-porn defendant to five years in prison, the minimum allowable sentence, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentence for defendant Ryan Collins, who was convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography through use of peer-to-peer software. Sentencing Law and Policy noted the June 29 decision (PDF), written by Judge Ralph Guy Jr.

Investigators had found 19 videos and 93 images depicting child pornography on Collins’ computer.

U.S. District Judge James Gwin had rejected prosecutors’ recommendation for a 20-year sentence and decided on five years after juror responses, when pooled together, recommended an average of 14½ months in prison and a median of eight months. Gwin said the jurors’ opinions were one factor he considered in fashioning the sentence, and it showed “how off the mark the federal sentencing guidelines are.”

Prosecutors had argued the jury poll was an impermissible factor to consider in sentencing. The 6th Circuit disagreed.

‘Federal law provides nearly unfettered scope as to the sources from which a district judge may draw in determining a sentence,” the appeals court said.

District judges can reject recommendations in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines based on articulated policy disagreements, the court said. Gwin indicated such a disagreement during the sentencing hearing and in his writing on the subject. He argued in a law review article that the Sentencing Commission didn’t take community views on the gravity of offenses into account, as directed by Congress, when crafting sentences.

The appeals court added that the sentence was not unreasonable.

Related articles:

ABA Journal: “Courts are giving reduced terms to many child-porn defendants” “Judge polls jurors and issues 5-year sentence in child porn case; 6th Circuit dissent cited”

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