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December 23, 2008

A prominent "victim" of broad federal child porn law OR just another sex offender?

Regular readers know I have blogged a lot about federal child porn prosecutions and sentencing.  Now a notable new case out of California, reported widely through local press and via CNN and the AP, seems to have the potential to raise the profile of these issues.  The reporting on this case varies based on the media source, but reports here and here from the San Diego Union Tribune highlight why this case has the potential to draw lots of attention:

A San Diego veterans activist and Vietnam War hero who served in a senior Navy post during the Clinton administration pleaded guilty yesterday to a federal charge of possessing child pornography. Wade Rowland Sanders, 67, acknowledged in federal court in San Diego that last May, he possessed computer files containing 600 images of minors, including a 21-minute video that depicted girls engaging in sex acts with an adult man, according to court records....

In a telephone interview last night, Sanders said he had downloaded the files as part of his research for an article on the sexual exploitation of children in foreign countries.  He said his work for the Clinton administration had included aiding victims of child sex abuse in the former Yugoslavia. “I have no sexual attraction to children whatsoever,” Sanders said. “There was no evil intent.”

Sanders, a lawyer, said he didn't realize federal child pornography laws barred downloading or viewing the material even by researchers.  He said that is why he decided to plead guilty. “I thought since my motives were pure and innocent, that would make a difference,” he said. “I'm technically guilty of the crime.”

Sanders pleaded guilty to one felony charge of possession of images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.  A judge scheduled sentencing for March 30.  Sanders faces a maximum of 10 years in prison but could receive far less time. He also could be fined $250,000 and be required to register as a sex offender.

Sanders, a retired Naval Reserve captain, earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart while serving aboard Swift boats during the Vietnam War. He served from 1993 to 1997 as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for reserve affairs under Clinton. Since last year, he had been a senior adviser on military and veterans affairs for California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi until resigning Nov. 8.  Sanders had served with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in Vietnam, and had been among the senator's most vocal defenders when some veterans questioned Kerry's military record during his 2004 presidential run.

The investigation into Sanders began in October 2007, according to a statement filed in the case by San Diego FBI agent John Caruthers....  On May 2, 2008, agents executed a search warrant at Sanders' home and seized his computer. During the search, Sanders admitted he had downloaded child pornography using the file-sharing program, but said he deleted the files once he noticed they were downloaded, according to the FBI statement.  He also denied “any inappropriate contact with children,” Caruthers wrote. The FBI searched the computer and found “multiple videos depicting child pornography” saved on the hard drive.... The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alessandra Serrano, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sanders said he believes he is a victim of zealous prosectors. “I got caught in the net,” he said. “I'm not the kind of person they were after.”

Regular readers may recall another recent case of a prominent Californian failing to avoid a long federal prison term by claiming he was just doing research when downloading.  As detailed here, Bernie Ward, a prominent San Francisco radio talk show host, got seven years in federal prison for distributing child porn as part of what he called "a research project."  For this reason and others, I am always a bit suspicious of defendants who claim "research downloading" while still pleading guilty to charges that regularly result in very long prison sentences even for first offenders.

Notably, this CNN report includes a sentence stating that the "minimum sentence for the charge is five years with supervised release for his lifetime and registration as a sex offender, the prosecutor said."  But this short story in the  Los Angeles Times asserts that "[u]nder a plea bargain, prosecutors have agreed to recommend a prison sentence of five to six years."  Though these press reports may not be fully accurate, they certainly suggest that prosecutors did not believe Sanders' various claims about being a largely innocent downloader.

Some related recent federal child porn prosecution and sentencing posts:

December 23, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink

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Tracked on Dec 23, 2008 5:41:03 PM

Comments

I fail to see how possessing a picture of a crime scene can be a crime itself in a free and open society. I also fail to see how possessing a picture (without more) can affect interstate/foreign commerce so as to be a federal crime. Yeah, yeah, I've heard the "market theory" of kiddie porn production but I don't buy it (no pun intended). Catch someone buying or selling it across state lines... okay fine I suppose that could be a federal crime, but that doesn't mean it should. But merely having pictures in one's possession with no evidence they were purchased is not "interstate commerce" in any conceivable way consistent with the intent of the Framers.

I can possess pictures of dead bodies at murder scenes and terrorists crashing airplanes into buildings, yet I have not committed any crime. Surely murder and terrorism are worse crimes than taking a nude picture of a minor. Or is it only a crime when one becomes sexually aroused by said photo? If so, how is that not a thought crime? And if you possess the pictures but for some reason other than as a masturbatory aid (e.g. you don't get aroused by it) then what's the point of prosecuting the possessor? "Because I can" is never a valid reason for a prosecutor to charge someone with a crime and try to ruin the person's life.

Yeah, kiddie porn is disgusting, and people who make it are committing a real crime. Punishing the demand on the theory that it will somehow decrease the supply is asine, and consistently proven to be failed policy.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 23, 2008 1:32:20 PM

Irrespective of whether sentencing in these cases is too strong or not, I think his story is a bit hard to believe. He's a lawyer who claims he doesn't know that downloading CP is a strict liability offense.

Bruce is on record as stating that he thinks kids deserve to be raped, so who can take anything he says seriously?

Posted by: SmarterthanSCOTUS | Dec 23, 2008 3:52:08 PM

I wonder if the files were actually deleted - i.e. sitting in his desktop's trask can - or if he was just lying?

Posted by: | Dec 23, 2008 5:36:01 PM

How do you take my comment that child rape is "gross, [and] unfortunate" and turn that into me being on record as stating that I "think kids deserve to be raped"? Talk about twisting someone's words around. You're an ass. So am I, but I don't put false words into other people's mouths. If what I said was so horrendous, why did you have to lie about it and claim I said something I did not actually say? I was unequivocally clear that I am against child rape (and I'm against adult rape too).

I never said kids (or anyone else for that matter) "deserve" to be raped. I only said it's not the worst thing that can happen. There are far worse things that can happen than an adult having sex with a kid. Especially when the "kid" is a well-developed girl one day shy of her 17th birthday.

But even if we're talking about a 5 year old, it's better that 100 five year olds get violently raped than for 280 million americans to lose one iota of the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Of course don't set up a false dichotomy - it shouldn't have to be either/or. I'd rather NO kids get raped and NO rights get diminished. But realistically, every time a child cries the Bill of Rights loses some of its reverence.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 23, 2008 7:58:17 PM

To quote Bruce:

"In fact, being a rape-toy for a pedophile is probably the most useful thing most children will ever be. The rest of the time they will just be loud, obnoxious little vandals."

Speaks for itself.

Posted by: | Dec 23, 2008 8:24:29 PM

No it doesn't, not if you think that translates to me thinking that kids "deserve to be raped."

I simply think kids today are utterly worthless. My comment is on the sad, pathetic nature of children, not that they deserve to be raped. I mean exactly what I say, and I use my words carefully.

Just because you'd make a good punching bag doesn't mean you deserve to be beaten up.
And just because I wouldn't cry if you did get beaten up doesn't mean I advocate people beating you up.

Are you mentally capable of understanding such distinctions?

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 23, 2008 9:49:57 PM

"In fact, being a rape-toy for a pedophile is probably the most useful thing most children will ever be. The rest of the time they will just be loud, obnoxious little vandals."

When you write something this foolish, you cannot complain if someone doesn't spend a lot of time parsing what you say.

Bruce is here again, looking for attention.

Posted by: | Dec 23, 2008 10:23:37 PM

so sayeth the anonymous coward....

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 24, 2008 1:17:19 AM

beware of the pool, blue bottomless pool

Posted by: federalist | Dec 24, 2008 10:10:43 AM

"In fact, being a rape-toy for a pedophile is probably the most useful thing most children will ever be. The rest of the time they will just be loud, obnoxious little vandals."

Bruce to be so smart it was pretty dumb to use these words to try and make a point.I remember when you first said them you could not defend them and you cannot defend them now.

Posted by: BS | Dec 24, 2008 11:18:29 AM

Not a long sentence? Compare it to manslaughter. In California, a voluntary manslaughter conviction carries a sentence of 3 to 11 years in prison. Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing that happened during the commission of a misdemeanor or because of gross negligence (carelessness). Involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of 2 to 4 years.

Put in context, Bruce has a point. If the person killed in the manslaughter was a child, his/her soul was literally murdered, either voluntarily or involuntarily. It is difficult to compare that to the murdering of the child's soul when viewing a picture of the child (like when viewing a picture of the traffic accident).

And once again, in another news story, the person in possession is the "pornographer" and Bruce has another good point. Child pornography is a picture of the crime scene, not the production (enactment) of the crime itself. The difference might be something like viewing commercials for beer compared to the involuntary manslaughter above.

Indeed, in practice, all the news coverage might work something like commercials for teens to take and send naked or erotic pictures of themselves to others. Do they commit soul suicide? There are no easy answers but the law is based on a false premise.

Posted by: George | Dec 24, 2008 11:21:26 AM

BS: Not only did I defend my statement (see my post on that thread - follow the link cited above to the original post), but others joined in and defended my statement too. If not the actual words then at least the sentiment expressed underlining those words.

I stand by my statement, but don't assume it means something that it doesn't. I meant exactly what I said, no more, no less.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 24, 2008 1:40:16 PM

Not if your words were intended literally.

Posted by: George | Dec 26, 2008 10:07:37 AM

Even if my words were intended literally, that doesn't mean you can take those words and claim I said something which I did not say.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 26, 2008 8:30:31 PM

Also- It's important to keep your focus on the person(s) you are giving head to. It can be easy to just let your attention float off while you go through your practiced routine motions. Great head incorporates FOCUS~ENERGY~INTENTION.

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