Published on:

Defendant’s waiver of right to counsel was valid when he admitted having child porn on his computer; federal child porn statute upheld as Constitutional

In U.S. v Woods the defendant was charged with violating federal child pornography laws. In his defense he raised Constitutional challenges under the Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendments for failure to advise him pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona and he challenged the law the under the Due Process Clause for being vague and overbroad.
Woods was a Navy serviceman when his ex-wife found child pornography on his computer that she took when she moved out. As any ex-wife would do, she turned it over to law enforcement. In this case it went to the Naval Criminal Investigative Services, who sent investigators to his workplace at Ft. Gordon to speak to him. He was escorted by his chief to a room where the investigators were waiting but he was not arrested nor did they tell him he was in custody. Before questioning he was given a military waiver of rights (Fifth and Sixth Amendments) form which he signed. Woods did not ask for an attorney. After signing he admitted to viewing child pornography on his desktop at home but received it inadvertently. He was interviewed a second time. Prior to signing a waiver, he was not told he was under arrest nor was he restrained. He gave a statement that he has searched for and downloaded hundreds of images of child pornography, that he used it for arousal, and admitted incidents of molesting his niece.

1. Motion to Suppress denied.

In his motion to suppress he challenged statements made in the interviews claiming the waiver form was confusing, misleading and constitutionally deficient because instead of explaining he had a right to an attorney present during questioning, it drew a confusing distinction between a retained civilian attorney and an appointed military attorney. The 11th Circuit disagreed finding the waiver form reasonably clearly and accurately conveyed the defendant Fifth Amendment right under Miranda to have an attorney present. The warning apprises Woods of his right to have a lawyer appointed at no cost and made it clear he could retain his own lawyer or a military lawyer at no cost to him.

2. Statute was not overbroad or vague.

The Defendant challenged the child pornography statute 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(2) and 2252A(a)(5) as unconstitutionally vague and overbroad because the statutory language is unclear whether a person who merely views child pornography on his computer versus a person that actually downloads images to a hard drive, has knowingly received or knowingly possessed the images. The 11th Circuit rejected the challenge, relying partly on U.S. v. Pruitt, a recent 11th Circuit decision, which found that a defendant who viewed porn on a work computer but did not download it had knowingly received it based on the clarity of the statute’s language. A person of ordinary intelligence would be on fair notice of what is prohibited by the statute. It found that the language and precedent show that a person who intentionally views but does not download child pornography necessarily possesses child pornography within the meaning of the statute. The ordinary terms in the possession statute show why it is not unconstitutionally vague.

3. No multiplicity in the indictment.

The Defendant’s multiplicity challenged as multiplicitous in that is charges a single offense in more than one count and violates double jeopardy by giving the jury more than one opportunity to convict the defendant for the same offense. The 11th Circuit denied the challenge finding that each of the three counts in the indictment rested on at least one fact or element different from the others.

Contact Information