Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amendments Part I: Sex Crimes

Ed. Note: Next week, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2009 Amendments to the federal Sentencing Guidelines will go into effect. Once a week for the next month, we will post an analysis of some of the more important changes to the Guidelines. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2009 amendments is available here.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has changed the federal Sentencing Guidelines in a number of ways relating to sex crimes. These changes will go into effect this Sunday, November 1, 2009. The amendments address a circuit split regarding an enhancement for undue influence of a minor, resulting in a positive change in Eleventh Circuit law, as well as changes to the child pornography and human trafficking guidelines.

Undue Influence Amendments

§2A3.2 (Criminal Sexual Abuse of a Minor Under the Age of Sixteen Years (Statutory Rape) or Attempt to Commit Such Acts) and §2G1.3 (Promoting a Commercial Sex Act of Prohibited Sexual Conduct with a Minor; Transportation of Minors to Engage in a Commercial Sex Act or Prohibited Sexual Conduct; Travel to Engage in Commercial Sex Act or Prohibited Sexual Conduct with a Minor; Sex Trafficking of Children; Use of Interstate Facilities to Transport Information about a Minor) each contain an enhancement for undue influence where “a participant otherwise unduly influences the minor to engage in prohibited sexual conduct.”

Two issues have arisen involving the undue influence enhancement. The first is whether it can apply in attempt cases. The second is whether it can apply where the only “minor” involved is a law enforcement officer. Three circuits have addressed these issues, but have decided them differently. The Eleventh Circuit held in U.S. v. Root that the enhancement does apply in both situations. The Seventh Circuit, on the other hand, held in U.S. v. Mitchell that it does not apply where the victim is an undercover officer and suggested that it would not apply in cases of attempt. The Sixth Circuit, in U.S. v. Chriswell, left the attempt issue open, but held that the enhancement does not apply where the victim is an undercover agent.

The Sentencing Commission resolved the circuit split in favor of applying the enhancement in applicable attempt cases, but not where the only “minor” involved in the offense is an undercover law enforcement office. The Commission reasoned that unlike other enhancements, the undue influence enhancement properly focuses on the effect on the minor.

The Sentencing Commission held a public meeting on September 16, 2009 with a possible vote on whether this amendment should be made retroactive to previous defendants’ sentences. The minutes from that meeting have not yet been published. We hope the amendment is made retroactive to provide relief to defendants sentenced in the Eleventh Circuit.

An analysis by the Office of Research and Data on the Impact of the Influencing a Minor Amendment is Made Retroactive is available here.

Child Pornography Amendments

§2G2.1 (Sexually Exploiting a Minor by Production of Sexually Explicit Visual or Printed Material; Custodian Permitting Minor to Engage in Sexually Explicit Conduct; Advertisement for Minors to Engage in Production) and §2G2.2 (Trafficking in Material Involving the Sexual Exploitation of a Minor; Receiving, Transporting, Shipping, Soliciting, or Advertising Material Involving the Sexual Exploitation of a Minor; Possessing Material Involving the Sexual Exploitation of a Minor with Intent to Traffic; Possessing Material Involving the Sexual Exploitation of a Minor) are amended to reflect changes in the child pornography statutes at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251 et seq.

The child pornography statutes were amended to add streaming video to the offenses. Everywhere “producing a visual depiction” is mentioned, the Commission added “transmitting a live visual depiction” and everywhere “possessing material” is mentioned, the Commission added “accessing with intent to view the material.” These amendments ensure that viewing streaming video, whether or not the video is stored in any permanent format, will result in the same penalties as saving the material.

The Commission also amended §2G2.2 to provide for a new offense at 18 U.S.C. sec 2252A(a)(7), which makes it unlawful to knowingly produce with intent to distribute or knowingly distribute “child pornography that is an adapted or modified depiction of an identifiable minor.” This offense has no mandatory minimum and carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years. The guideline now provides for a base offense level of 18 for such an offense, which is four levels lower than other child pornography distribution offenses. The lower level accounts for the fact that creating the image does not involve actual exploitation of the child and the enhancements for distribution and use of a computer will likely apply.

Human Trafficking Amendments

The Commission amended §2L1.1 (Smuggling, Transporting, or Harboring an Unlawful Alien) to include an alternative enhancement prong at §2L1.1(b)(8)(B). If greater than the coercion enhancement at §2L1.1(b)(8)(A), this enhancement will apply where the alien harboring was for the purpose of prostitution and the defendant receives a §3B1.1 adjustment for aggravating role. In this case, a two-level increase applies, but if the alien who engaged in the prostitution was a minor, a six-level increase applies. Application Note 6 was also amended to note that §3A1.3 (Restraint of Victim) may apply.

Additional amendments were made regarding human trafficking, but because they do not involve sex crimes, we will address them in a later post.