Distribution of Child Pornography
Child Pornography charges have tremendous consequences for those convicted in the State of Pennsylvania. In “Child Pornography Charges in Pennsylvania”, we discussed how these charges can effectively result in a ‘life sentence’.
Now we will examine US v Scott, a child pornography case that shows how possession of child pornography can lead to distribution charges, and how those distribution charges can be fought against.
US v Scott
Jason Scott pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography and was sentenced to 108 months in prison and a lifetime term of supervised release. He appealed the district court’s calculation of his Sentencing Guidelines range as well as the length and conditions of his supervised release.
A grand jury indicted Scott on one count of possessing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B) and three counts of receiving child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2)(A). He originally pleaded guilty to one count of receiving child pornography and was sentenced to 235 months in prison and a ten-year term of supervised release. However, this conviction was vacated after Scott filed a motion alleging that he pleaded guilty because his lawyer assured him that the district judge had told a mutual friend that Scott would get “hammered” if he went to trial, but that the judge would “take it easy on him” by sentencing him to only five years if Scott pleaded guilty.
The second time around Scott pleaded guilty again to a single count of possessing child pornography. This plea’s stipulated factual basis agents conducting an investigation into the use of a computer program called LimeWire determined that Scott’s computer “was actively downloading and possessing child pornography.” Law enforcement was able to download three illicit videos from the “shared” Limewire file folder on Scott’s computer. Through a forensic examination of Scott’s computer they confirmed that those videos were downloaded from the internet. The placement of files in the shared folder is part of Limewire’s default (but optional) settings.
Scott’s Presentencing Report (PSR) stated that he had used LimeWire to traffic in child pornography. The PSR recommended a five-level enhancement under U.S. Sentencing Guideline § 2G2.2(b)(3)(B) for “distribution [of child pornography] for the receipt, or expectation of a thing of value, but not for pecuniary gain.” Scott objected to this enhancement, arguing that a two-level enhancement under § 2G2.2(b)(3)(F) for “distribution other than distribution described in subdivisions (A) through (E)” should be applied instead. The PSR disagreed with this position, telling the court that Scott “had the file sharing function of [LimeWire] turned on … allowing him to not only receive … but to ‘distribute’ child pornography.” The PSR added that § 2G2.2(b)(3)(B) applies when a defendant trades in child pornography in exchange for child pornography.
Scott disagreed and argued to the court that he had been convicted of possession, not distribution, of child pornography. He stated that Government had not presented any “evidence that he knew he was making child pornography available to others or that he was a sophisticated computer user who might be presumed cognizant of the sharing.”
- 2G2.2(b)(3)(B); Receipt, or Expectation of a Thing of Value
The issue in Scott’s case was whether he distributed child pornography “for the receipt, or expectation of receipt, of a thing of value” so as to warrant a five-level enhancement. The Fifth Circuit stated that a sentencing court must make a “requisite finding” that a defendant used LimeWire to “download and distribute child pornography” within the meaning of § 2G2.2(b)(3)(B). The sentencing court had concluded that Scott “by using LimeWire and other peer-to-peer file sharing programs, agreed to share the child pornography he gathered.” The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded Scott’s case back to the sentencing court with instructions that the court must determine “whether the Government has met its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Scott knowingly used LimeWire in ‘the kind of exchange contemplated by § 2G2.2(b)(3)(B).’”
In short, the sentencing court did not make an “express finding” that Scott “knowingly used LimeWire to exchange child pornography” sufficient to create an “agreement” to distribute child pornography stored on his computer in exchange for “additional child pornography.”
Because of this the Fifth Circuit remanded Scott’s case back to the sentencing court with instructions that the court determine “whether the Government has met its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Scott knowingly used LimeWire in ‘the kind of exchange contemplated by § 2G2.2(b)(3)(B).’”