Articles Posted in Sex crimes and internet crimes

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Phillips went to trial and was convicted of a three-count federal indictment charging him with 1) persuading, inducing, and enticing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction, 2) receiving material containing child pornography, and possessing material containing child pornography.  He argued in this appeal that the district court constructively amended the indictment which charged him with knowingly and intentionally causing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a video.  He claimed the trial court committed reversible error to instruct the jury that the government need not prove he knew the boy was a minor.  He also argued there was a Double Jeopardy violation of the constitution because that he was sentenced for both a crime and a lesser included crime based on the same set of facts.

The federal appeals court rejected his argument that the district court constructively amended the indictment, but it agreed that he was sentenced for both a crime and a lesser included crime.  Here Phillips, who is a 33-year old man went on line pretending to be a 17 or 18 year old girl on a social media website where he met a minor boy.

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Williams appeals his conviction and sentence by a federal judge for the federal offense of sex trafficking involving a minor, and two adults.  The evidence presented at his trial showed Williams used physical abuse and emotional manipulation to force vulnerable young women to work for him as prostitutes.  The evidence was graphic because the women who worked for Williams described Williams’ violent behavior and punishments.  He was sentenced to five terms of life imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution to his victims.  In his appeal he raised three issues.

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Castaneda appealed his conviction for enticing a minor to engage in unlawful sexual activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2422 and one count of crossing a state line with intent to engage in sexual activity with a person under the age of 12, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2241(c).  Following a federal jury trial, he was convicted of both counts and sentenced to 420 months.  In his appeal he argued the indictment should have been dismissed because the government’s conduct in investigating him was so outrageous that it violated his due process rights.  He also claimed the evidence of child pornography that was found on his computer should have been suppressed and not admitted at trial.  Though he was not indicted with possession of child pornography, the evidence that he possessed it was admitted at his trial to prove his intent.

Law enforcement began its investigation when he responded to an ad on Craigslist from a purported 37- year-old female in Atlanta, Georgia who was “looking for someone with experience with REAL taboo to be a good teacher” for her 9-year-old daughter.   Castaneda grabbed the bait and began communicating with Kandi, telling her he was experienced in “incest, pedophilia, and grooming” and went on about his own experiences with minors.  Kandi responded that she had a 9-year-old daughter “wanting to learn more and looking for someone with experience like you.”   It turned out that Kandi was an undercover law enforcement officer, and not the mother of a 9-year old, who had posted the ad on Craigslist.

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Jason Kushmaul was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of distributing child pornography and with possessing material containing child pornography involving a minor under the age of 12 in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 2252A. He was arrested in Florida by Bay County Sheriff Officer who went to his address based on a tip obtained by Homeland Security that he was distributing child pornography through an App known as Kik.  Kushmaul was already registered on the Florida Sex Offender Registry having been previously convicted in Florida of promoting the sexual performance of a child. He pled guilty to the federal offense. The federal statute, Section 2252A, enhances the mandatory minimum from 5 years to 15 years if the offender has a prior conviction under the laws of any state relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor. The sentencing court found that his 2016 Florida conviction “promoting the sexual performance of a child” qualified as a prior conviction that triggered the sentencing enhancement and imposed a 15-year sentence.

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McGroarty sued the Florida Department of Law Enforcement claiming a violation of his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. McGroarty’s federal lawsuit alleged that the FDLE violated his rights by continuing to publish his personal identifiable information on FDLE’s sex offender registry website even after he had completed a ten year probation for a sex crime and was no longer subject of Florida’s registration laws.

When McGroarty lived in Florida his Florida conviction as a sex offender required him to register there. He then moved out of Florida to California where he lived while he completed his Florida probation. Eventually he moved to North Carolina, and eventually Florida notified him after he completed his probation that he had to continue registering in Florida as a sex offender. Thereafter, Florida maintained information about McGroarty on its online database, including his photograph, pursuant to Florida’s sex offender registry law, Fla. Stat. section 943.0435. In his lawsuit, McGroarty claimed that Florida lost jurisdiction to enforce compliance with its sex offender registry statute after he moved to California in 2004 because he was no longer a resident of Florida. The district court dismissed his lawsuit as time barred under the statute of limitations.

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Bobal was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of using a means of interstate commerce to attempt to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity in violation of 8 U.S.C. sec. 2422(b) and committing a felony offense involving a minor after being required to register as a sex offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. sec. 2260A. Bobal had a prior conviction in Florida for using a computer to solicit a child to engage in sexual activity. His trouble began when he sent a picture of his penis to a man posing as a 14-year old girl. The F.B.I. got involved and an agent posing as the 14-year-old girl began exchanging text messages with Bobal which were sexual in nature and eventually arranged a meeting. When Bobal arrived at the meeting location he was arrested.

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In this appeal Anthony Spence was charged with knowing transportation of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(1) and knowing possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(5)(B). He was found guilty after trial. In calculating his federal sentencing guidelines range the probation officer recommended an increase for a number of factors. The factor at issue here was a two-level enhancement for distribution which Spence stated took place while he was in Jamaica. In this appeal he argues that his distribution of the videos while in Jamaica should not have affected his guidelines calculation. He argued that by including his out of country conduct in the calculation of his offense level the district court violated the principle that legislation of Congress should apply only within the United States unless a contrary intent appears. Spence was relying upon a canon of statutory construction known as the presumption against the application of congressional statutes to conduct occurring in the territory of a foreign sovereign. He argued that the distribution of videos occurring solely in Jamaica should not have been considered by the district court.

As an issue of first impression, the court of appeals saw the issue as whether the presumption against the extraterritorial application of congressional legislation should be extended to apply also to preclude a sentencing judge from considering extraterritorial conduct which would otherwise be properly considered as relevant conduct.

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Caniff was convicted of attempting to entice a minor to engage in illegal sexual conduct, with advertising for child pornography and attempted production of child pornography. The underlying facts began with an F.B.I. agent posing as a thirteen-year-old girl on Whisper, and online website and cellphone application that allows users to text or communicate anonymously with other users. The terms of Whisper’s use provide that individuals who use Whisper must be at least 13 years of age and users between the ages of 13 and 18 must be supervised by a parent.

The agent posted a photo of another agent that was age regressed to make the person look childlike posted a message from “Mandy” the purported 13-year-old. Caniff, a 32-year-old pharmacy technician responded to Mandy and after a series of text exchanges he sent several pictures of his penis and asked her for pictures of her genitalia and of her masturbating. Eventually Mandy agreed to have sex with Caniff. When he arrived at the location they were supposed to meet, he was arrested. After Caniff waived his right to remain silent, pursuant to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, he agreed to talk to the officers without an attorney present and said he though Mandy was 18 and she was role playing.

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After serving seven years in prison for a kidnapping and rape conviction, a DNA test revealed that Echols’s DNA did not match the semen recovered from the victim. His conviction was vacated by a Georgia trial court and the local district attorney, Spencer Lawton, declined to retry the case causing it’s dismissal. A state legislator later introduced a bill to compensate Echols to compensate Echols for his wrongful convictions, but Lawton wrote a letter and memorandum to several of the legislators opposing Echols’ compensation falsely stating that Echols remained under indictment. As a result of Lawton’s correspondence, the bill failed. Echols filed a 1983 lawsuit against Lawton for violating his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit based on its finding that Lawton had qualified immunity protection from the lawsuit.

In Echols v. Lawton, the court of appeals rejected Echols’ s appeal from the trial court’s dismissal of his claim.   It agreed that Echols stated a valid claim for retaliation under the First Amendment. A claim for First Amendment retaliation requires the plaintiff to allege that he engaged in protected speech, that the official’s conduct adversely affected the protected speech, and that a causal connection exists between the speech and the official’s retaliatory conduct. Here it was alleged that Lawton retaliated against Echols by his speech to the members of the legislature. Lawton’s speech contained defamatory statements that were libel per because it falsely stated that Echols had a criminal case pending against him. The court rejected Lawton’s to invoke the First amendment protection because it does not protect an official’s defamatory speech from a claim of retaliation.

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The issue disputed in Koeppel v. Valencia College was whether Valencia College violated Jeffrey Koeppel’s statutory or constitutional rights when it suspended him for his harassing conduct against another student. Koeppel’s suspension followed an investigation by the Valencia Dean of Students after a “Jane Roe” lodged a complaint about messages Koeppel had been sending her. The investigation showed that he sent Jane Roe dozens of messages making lewd reference to her body and send these unwanted massages over a period of days. He continued to contact her despite her repeated pleas that he stop contacting her and after the Dean issued an order that he not contact her.

After the Dean determined that Koeppel likely violated the school’s Code of Conduct for four types of conduct prohibited by the Code, a disciplinary hearing was held by the Student Conduct Committee. At a hearing held by the Committee they reviewed the evidence of the text messages and questioned Koeppel about his messages. It concluded he was responsible for the charged conduct and suspended him for attending the college for one year.

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