Autistic Man's Child Porn Sentence OK by 8th Circuit - Criminal Law - U.S. Eighth Circuit
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Autistic Man's Child Porn Sentence OK by 8th Circuit

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part a lower court's decision regarding the sentencing and release conditions of an autistic man, Stephen Morais, who was sentenced by a district court on two counts of receiving child pornography.

Morais' appeal challenged the term of his imprisonment, the imposed fine and two special conditions of his supervised release. On appeal, the 8th Circuit affirmed the term of the sentence, the fine and one of the special conditions. The interesting argument in this case is made regarding Morais' sentence and his propensities for child pornography in light of his diagnosed autism.

The case arose in 2009, after a child abuse hotline received a report of odd behavior involving two young girls, aged 3 and 6. The brother of the two girls claimed that he saw Morais, a friend of the family's through church, taking photographs of one of his sisters with her pants removed.

After a search of his residence, police discovered 8,200 images of child pornography acquired between 1998 and 2009. Officers also found several images of the 3-year old girl, with her genitals exposed.

Morais was charged by a grand jury on five counts of receiving child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography. He pleaded guilty to two counts of receiving child pornography.

Citing his autism, Morais' attorney argued for a lighter sentence. This issue was raised on appeal and the appeals court reviewed the substantive reasonableness of the sentence under a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. The appeals court found that the sentence was not unreasonable and that the district court had substantial discretion in determining how to weigh the sentencing factors.

During the trial, a doctor testified on behalf of Morais, citing that Morais' autism was the cause of his collecting tendencies and his inability to recognize that child pornography was inherently wrong.

The trial court, however, found that while Morais had tendencies to collect items, his autism didn't necessarily dictate the objects of his collection.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence, finding that the record indicated sufficient reasons for the sentence.

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