Life sentence imposed for enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity upheld as reasonable
Romeo Sanchez was charged in a seven-count indictment involving sex crimes against minors. Specifically, his charges included two counts of enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity; two counts of enticing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct in order to produce child pornography; two counts of possessing child pornography and one count of having committed a felony offense involving a minor while already a registered sex offender. He was convicted after a jury trial and sentenced to life imprisonment, plus a consecutive ten-year mandatory minimum sentence for committing the crime while he was a registered sex offender.
His appeal focused on the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from his two cell phones. An investigation determined that a fourteen-year-old was having a sexual relationship with Sanchez, 29, and she was using her phone for sexually explicit communications with Sanchez. Detectives from the Cape Coral Police Department went to Sanchez’s house with a warrant to seize his phone. Sanchez came out to speak with the Detectives and while speaking with the agents about the warrant for his phone, his parents came home. One of the detectives proposed that his parents get the phone because they knew where the phone was located. That detective said the mother agreed to get the phone and with that he accompanied the mother inside the house to get the phone. He left after retrieving the phone and a search of the phone revealed incriminating evidence.
A few months after the seizure of phone one, Sanchez was arrested at his place of work. In the process he tried to conceal another phone, which detectives seized. That phone showed that Sanchez was having sexually explicit communications with another fourteen-year-old girl, who investigators learned he was involved in illegal activity.
Sanchez moved to suppress the warrantless search of his home including the phone seized inside the house arguing that although the officers had a warrant to search the phone, they had no warrant to search the house and their warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment. He also moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the search of the phone seized at the time of arrest on the ground that the warrant to search the second phone was based on the evidence they uncovered in searching the first phone. In other words it was fruit of the poisonous tree.
The court of appeals rejected all of Sanchez’s arguments. First it found that when the officers spoke to Sanchez outside his house he had consented to the seizure of the phone in his house. He said he was fine with giving them the phone and after that his mother gave the officer nonverbal consent to follow her into the home to retrieve the phone. The court found both Sanchez’s and his mother’s consent was freely and voluntarily given, and the warrantless search was valid. Because the search and seizure of the first phone was legal, the search and seizure of the second phone was not tainted.
Sanchez raised several challenges to his sentence the court rejected. These challenges involved sentencing guidelines enhancement for reasons such as a previous conviction under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for prior conduct of sexual activity involving a minor for which he was required to register as a sex offender. He also lost his challenge to an enhancement for production of child pornography that portrayed sadistic or masochistic conduct which Sanchez asked the minor engage in. The court also rejected his argument that he should not receive an enhancement for producing child pornography involving sexual conduct because he did not touch the two minors. Persuading the young women to engage in the conduct was enough under the sentencing guidelines. Finally, the court rejected his argument that the life sentence was unreasonable, finding that the district court did not improperly weigh the factors or commit a clear error of judgment, particularly because he did not stop his conduct after his first phone had been seized and he sought out another minor victim.