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October 26, 2010

Split Third Circuit affirms way below-guideline sentence in major(?) child porn ruling

A split Third Circuit panel has a long and dynamic set of opinion in a federal child porn sentencing case in which I was actually called as an expert witness at sentencing.  The litigation and ruling in US v. Grober, No. 09-1318 (3d Cir. Oct. 26, 2010) (available here), merits extended discussion, but for now I will quote for the start of the majority opinion and the end of the dissent.  First, the start of the majority opinion:

It is an unassailable proposition that “[c]hild pornography harms and debases the most defenseless of our citizens.” United States v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285, 307 (2008).  We believe that, and the District Court believed that.  Nonetheless, the Court was deeply concerned about the sentence the government said the Court should impose on defendant David Grober under the child pornography Guidelines. It recognized, on the one hand, the tension between a mechanical application of those Guidelines and the “outrageously high” sentence –- indeed, the “truly remarkable punishment” -– of 235-293 months of imprisonment they advised, and, on the other, a fair and reasonable sentence that does justice.  Determined to take a long and hard look at the child pornography Guidelines in an effort to understand why Congress and the Sentencing Commission did what they did and whether it made sense both as an objective matter and as to the defendant, the Court embarked on a careful study of how the Guidelines range urged on it by the government came to be. It took evidence over twelve days, heard extensive oral argument and considered extensive written submissions, and rendered a lengthy oral opinion at sentencing and a forty-six page written opinion thereafter explaining in great detail how it arrived at what it believed to be the correct sentence for this defendant.  All of this is to be much admired.

There is a flip side, however, when a district court devotes such an extraordinary amount of time and attention to an issue so clearly troubling it and so freely expresses its concerns on the record, reaching out for whatever might assist it in assuaging those concerns.  The flip side is this: in the unusual case, such as this, in which a district court arguably does too much rather than too little, there is much more grist for the mill, as here the government points to everything the District Court did and did not do and everything it should and should not have done.  After this microscopic examination –- but without ever challenging the substantive reasonableness of the ultimate sentence imposed –- the government has found what it describes as procedural error. We will affirm.

And here is the end of this dissent:

As I noted at the outset, the District Court labored mightily to impose a just sentence upon David Grober.  That effort was animated by a candid fear that Congress’s zeal to address the proliferation of child pornography has resulted in penalties grossly disproportionate to the culpability attendant to this type of crime.  Even accepting that premise, it is still wrong for a sentencing court to: (1) categorically reject the validity of a Guideline by impugning generally the plea bargaining system; (2) punish a party for failing to present “evidence” it never should have presented in the first place; (3) mischaracterize a defendant’s crimes of conviction; and (4) use a categorical rejection of a Guideline as a proxy for ignoring some of the relevant § 3553(a) factors. Because each of these errors is manifest on this record, I would vacate Grober’s judgment of sentence and remand for a new sentencing hearing.

October 26, 2010 at 01:30 PM | Permalink

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This said sentence presents the main idea of the said child porn ruling that was stated. Therefore we under go with it again.

A split Third Circuit panel has a long and dynamic set of opinion in a federal child porn sentencing case in which I was actually called as an expert witness at sentencing. The litigation and ruling in US v. Grober, No. 09-1318 (3d Cir. Oct. 26, 2010) (available here), merits extended discussion, but for now I will quote for the start of the majority opinion and the end of the dissent.

Posted by: weight lifting benches | Oct 29, 2010 2:15:51 AM

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