Articles Posted in Internet Crimes

We handle lots of federal cases involving supposedly illegal activity over the Internet, which means some of our clients are far from our offices here in Atlanta. Because of that, we try to pay attention even when a federal criminal case is far away, such as the recent ruling by the Court of Appeals in California that invalidated a federal criminal conviction because of an illegal search. What really piqued my interest is that the case is yet another example of the trend where judges are becoming ever more suspicious of Internet-based surveillance techniques that lead to evidence of a crime. The Court was especially vexed because a military investigator in Georgia used the Navy’s vast resources basically to investigate a local crime in Washington State, which led to Michael Dreyer’s indictment and conviction in federal court. The opinion is here.

The federal Naval Investigator was working undercover from his office in lovely Brunswick, Ga. He signed on to a large file-sharing network sometimes used by traders in child pornography, using a special computer program called RoundUp. The agent then scanned computer activity by the network’s members in the state of Washington, regardless as to whether the computer was being used by anyone in military. Finding a computer that had child pornography, the agent downloaded some photos and forwarded the material to local investigators who then got search warrants which led to federal criminal charges against Mr. Dreyer.
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Yesterday, I concluded my case where we represented the Defendant in what seems to be the very first federal criminal prosecution for selling the prescription drug “Adderall”. Early in the case, the prosecutor (and the probation officer) argued that the Sentencing Guidelines for this crime exceeded 10 years. Later, we got them down to 57-71 months. We filed an aggressive Sentencing Memorandum (Download file) arguing that the Guidelines and the whole case was far out of line. Yesterday, a United States District Judge sitting in Brooklyn, New York agreed with us, refused to put our client in jail, and imposed a sentence of 6 months home confinement.

We live in a pill-popping culture where pharmaceutical companies create more and more drugs that they claim we “need” to survive. Adderall is a drug prescribed mostly for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. It is well-known that this drug is often used, traded and sold by college students as a “study aid.” More and more professionals use the drug to get through a big test or hard and stressful workload. Some stories have called it “Ivy League Crack.”

Our client wanted to go to medical school. She had a romantic relationship with a medical doctor, who wrote Adderall prescriptions to supposedly “help” her study for the MCAT’s. The doctor came up with the bright idea of writing more and more Adderall prescriptions, and then selling the excess pills to other Yuppies through Craiglist. He had our client fill most of the prescriptions, and showered her with gifts and trips using the proceeds. The couple broke up, he got busted, and turned on our client, resulting in her arrest as she got off a plane here in Atlanta. The case was prosecuted in the Eastern District of New York, where the doctor had been doing his medical residency.

Lawyers that specialize in defending federal criminal cases may be interested to know that the federal sentencing commission recently released a document entitled: “Selected Post-Booker and Guideline Application Decisions for the Eleventh Circuit”. According to the Commission, “[t]he document is not a substitute for reading and interpreting the actual Guidelines Manual or researching specific sentencing issues.” However, those of you that practice federal criminal law in Georgia, Alabama and Florida will find the document useful, because it does contain helpful “annotations to certain Eleventh Circuit judicial opinions that involve issues related to the federal sentencing guidelines.”

I reviewed the document this morning and it is a fairly comprehensive. It not only includes case annotations dealing with many of the more common guideline provisions (including fraud, internet, and immigration offenses), but it also includes several sections that involve general principles of federal sentencing law, such as burden of proof issues, the requirements for sentencing on acquitted conduct, and departures and variances.

The document can be found here and for those of you that practice in other federal circuits, links to similar documents for those other circuits can be found here.

As we discussed in this post last year, federal judges have increasingly spoken out against the unreasonable sentencing guidelines regarding child pornography. In the last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in U.S. v. Grober, upholding a dramatic downward departure in a child pornography case, and a district judge in the Middle District of Florida issued an opinion in U.S. v. Irey reacting to the Eleventh Circuit’s reversal of his initial sentence in the case.

In Grober, the Court affirmed a 60-month sentence where the applicable guidelines range was 235 to 293 months. District Judge Katharine Hayden held hearings over 12 days to explore how the sentencing guidelines for child pornography offenses had gotten so harsh, eventually concluding that they are unworkable and unfair. This Tuesday, the Third Circuit held, 2-1, that the imposed sentence was not an abuse of discretion. That opinion is discussed extensively in this Legal Intelligencer article.

In recent years, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed below-guidelines sentences in child porn cases in both U.S. v. McBride and U.S. v. Gray. However, this July the Court decided Irey, an unfortunate case with incredibly disturbing underlying facts. We discussed Irey in this post, lamenting that hard facts often lead to bad law. In that case, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a 17 ½ year sentence, ordering that the defendant be sentenced to the guidelines range on remand, which was 30 years. This week, District Judge Gregory Presnell issued a lengthy opinion with his postponement of resentencing pending Supreme Court review, questioning the circuit court’s usurpation of his discretion. As Professor Berman of the Sentencing Law & Policy Blog notes here, this opinion seems to serve as a de facto amicus brief in support of an as-yet-unfiled petition for certiorari.

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, decided United States v. Irey. The 142-page majority opinion recounted gruesome sex crimes that Mr. Irey admitted to committing against as many as 50 Cambodian girls, some as young as four years old. The Court held that the 17½ year sentence ordered by the federal district court judge was a substantively unreasonable downward variance and remanded for sentencing within the Sentencing Guidelines range, which was 30 years at both the top and bottom. As one of the dissenting judges noted, “hard facts often lead to bad law” and we worry that this case will unduly limit district court judges’ discretion in imposing variances in future sentencing decisions.

The lengthy majority opinion began with an account of Mr. Irey’s criminal conduct and case. In short, Mr. Irey repeatedly traveled to Cambodia and China, where he bought underaged Cambodian girls to abuse in horrific ways that the Court said set Mr. Irey apart from “many examples of man’s inhumanity” that steadily flow through the Court of Appeals. During that abuse, he produced “some of the most graphic and disturbing child pornography that has ever turned up on the internet.” He later distributed those images, which have become widely known as “the Pink Wall series.” He was charged with and pleaded guilty to one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2251(c), which prohibits producing such images of child pornography elsewhere, then transporting them into the United States.

Under the Sentencing Guidelines, the adjusted offense level for Mr. Irey’s conduct would have led to an advisory sentence of life imprisonment. However, the statutory maximum for his crime as charged was 30 years. For that reason, the Guidelines range was 30 years.

Last week, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits here in Atlanta, Georgia, reversed a decision by the newest member of their Court, Judge Beverly Martin. Prior to her appointment to the Eleventh Circuit, Judge Martin was a district court judge here in the Northern District of Georgia. As a member of that court, in U.S. v. Farley, she decided that a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence for a man who crossed state lines with the intent to have sex with a child under twelve was cruel and unusual punishment where the “child” did not exist and the defendant had no criminal history and was unlikely to re-offend.

The Eleventh Circuit held that such a sentence “does not surpass constitutional bounds” under Harmelin v. Michigan, a Supreme Court case that was never brought to Judge Martin’s attention in the lower court. In reversing the District Court decision that Farley’s mandatory sentence would be grossly disproportionate to his crime, the Eleventh Circuit analyzed Harmelin in detail. The Court emphasized that, under Harmelin, “outside the context of capital punishment, successful challenges to the proportionality of particular sentences are exceedingly rare” and noted that the Eleventh Circuit “has never found a term of imprisonment to violate the Eighth Amendment.” Harmelin also held that the mandatory nature of a penalty is not an Eighth Amendment issue.

The Eleventh Circuit stressed the gravity of crimes involving sexual abuse of children. Incredibly, the Court compared the fiction of the child’s existence to the seizure of drugs by police: according to the Court, in both cases, the defendant is unable to inflict harm through no fault of his own.

This week, the Supreme Court held that 18 U.S.C. § 48, which criminalized the creation, sale, or possession of depictions of animals being harmed in illegal ways for commercial gain, is unconstitutionally overbroad. Although it had an exemption clause for portrayals with “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value” the statute criminalized a significant amount of speech protected by the First Amendment.

The statute defines “depictions of animal cruelty” as including portrayals of animals being “wounded or killed,” among other actions with more cruel connotations. The Court held that, because “wound” and “kill” are not ambiguous, they may not be interpreted in light of neighboring words that imply cruelty. In addition, “depictions of animal cruelty” include any wounding or killing that is illegal where the depiction is sold or possessed, regardless of whether that action was legal where it occurred.

Thus, depictions of any animal being harmed legally could be criminalized if possessed or sold in a place where such actions were not legal. The prime example of criminalized protected speech was hunting magazines and television shows that are distributed or aired in Washington, D.C., where all hunting is illegal. It could also criminalize representations of the treatment of livestock where states have different agricultural regulations.

On Friday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Lee. The Court held affirmed Mr. Lee’s convictions, holding that his communications with a “mother” of minors, absent any travel arrangements, were sufficient evidence of attempting to entice a minor. Judge Martin filed a vigorous dissent, arguing that the evidence failed to support that Mr. Lee took a substantial step toward that crime. She concurred with the majority in affirming Mr. Lee’s other federal criminal convictions.

Mr. Lee communicated with a postal inspector who was posing as a mother of two minor girls. He never communicated with anyone claiming to be a minor, although he asked the “mother” to share information and photographs with her daughters and requested photos in return. He discussed meeting them in general terms, but at one point noted that their first meeting would be as friends. He never made travel arrangements.

Judge Martin declared her “concern that the majority opinion does not clearly demarcate despicable but lawful talk from a criminal attempt punishable by up to 30 years in prison.” While the interaction was “disturbing,” no evidence showed that Mr. Lee took any steps to extend his relationship beyond his home. His actions should not count as a “substantial step toward enticing a child to engage in illicit sexual conduct.” For that reason, Judge Martin would have vacated the attempt conviction.

Ed. Note: The first of this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2009 Amendments to the federal Sentencing Guidelines went into effect. This is our final post analyzing some of the more important changes to the Guidelines. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2009 amendments is available here.

As we discussed in this post in July, a new federal law directed at online pharmacies went into effect this April. The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act makes it illegal to distribute controlled substances that are prescription drugs over the Internet without a valid prescription, or to advertise for such distribution. In response to this Act, the United States Sentencing Commission made several amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines, including a new sentencing enhancement at §2D1.1, increasing the base offense levels for hydrocodone offenses, and assigning guidelines to the two new offenses created by the Act.

New Sentencing Enhancement at §2D1.1

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