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7th Circuit upholds child porn sentence

What the court held

Case: U.S. v. Baker, No. 05-2499.

Issue: Did the district court adequately explain its reasons for imposing a below-guideline sentence on a defendant convicted of distributing child pornography?

Holding: Yes, where the court referenced the defendant’s lack of criminal history, religious background, and history of employment and higher education, the court’s explanation was adequate.

The Seventh Circuit on April 28 held that a below-guideline sentence for distribution of child pornography was reasonable, and adequately explained by the trial court.

The factors on which the district court relied were the defendant’s youth, religious background, and lack of criminal history.

In 2004, John B. Baker regularly conversed on an online chatroom called “gaymenteenboys.” Thinking that an undercover police detective was a 14-year-old boy, Baker e-mailed child pornography to the detective, with the expectation that he would be sent more pornographic images in return.

Instead, Baker was arrested, and a search revealed more than 300 images of child pornography on his computer, some depicting sadistic abuse of a minor.

Baker was charged in Illinois federal court with two counts of distributing child pornography and one count of its possession. He pleaded guilty to one count of distributing, and the remaining counts were dismissed.

The applicable range of the sentence guidelines was 108 to 135 months. However, District Judge Joe Billy McDade only imposed 87 months, plus supervised release for the rest of his life, or until the probation office determines supervision is no longer necessary.

Explaining its sentence, the district court remarked that the case was “different in the sense that the defendant is not and does not have the appearance of a dirty old man who hangs out at playgrounds, preying on small children.” The court also found there was no evidence that Baker had ever molested a child, and that he had no criminal record.

The court found, “a term of imprisonment would probably mean more to him and have a greater impact than on someone who had previous experience being incarcerated.”

The government appealed, but the Seventh Circuit affirmed in a decision by Judge Kenneth F. Ripple.

Citing U.S. v. Castro-Juarez, 425 F.3d 430, 433 (7th Cir. 2005), the court began: “Our task in the present case is not to decide whether 87 months’ imprisonment could be a reasonable sentence; our function, as stipulated by the parties, is merely to assess whether the district court’s choice of sentence was explained adequately.”

The court found that: “Specifically, at this hearing, the district court paid close attention to Mr. Baker’s lack of a criminal history, his relatively young age, his religious background and his history of both employment and higher education. The court’s consideration of these facts, in turn, coincides with the sentencing factors specified in sec. 3553(a).”

Related Links

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Case Analysis

The court also approved of the district court’s observation that prison would mean more to Baker than someone who had previously been imprisoned, and found this is consistent with sec. 3553’s directive that the sentence reflect the need for “just punishment” and “adequate deterrence.”

The court concluded, “Moreover, recognizing the seriousness of the offense committed by Mr. Baker, the district court imposed special conditions designed to reduce the risk of Mr. Baker becoming a repeat offender, including a life-long term of supervised release, restrictions on future possession of child pornography and a prohibition on unsupervised contact with minors. This extended discussion, touching upon various significant sec. 3553(a) factors, was sufficiently proportional to the district court’s deviation from the Guidelines to satisfy the requirements of [U.S. v. Dean, 414 F.3d 725 (7th Cir. 2005)].”

Accordingly, the court affirmed.

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David Ziemer can be reached by email.

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