Juvenile Record Haunts Defendant in Child Porn Sentence - Criminal Law - U.S. Eighth Circuit
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Juvenile Record Haunts Defendant in Child Porn Sentence

Juvenile records are generally sealed, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a district court could use a defendant's juvenile adjudication as the basis for a sentence enhancement in a child pornography case.

Francis Joseph Woodard pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. The statutory sentencing range for a child porn possession is 0 to 10 years imprisonment. That range increases to not less than 10 years nor more than 20 years for a defendant who has a prior conviction involving sexual abuse.

The district court sentenced Woodard to 168 months' imprisonment because his presentence report (PSR) indicated that he had a prior juvenile adjudication for sexual abuse of a minor.

Woodard appealed his sentence, arguing that his prior juvenile adjudication for second-degree sexual abuse did not support a statutory enhancement or Sentencing Guidelines enhancement because a juvenile adjudication does not constitute a prior conviction for those purposes.

Federal courts have recognized various crimes for which pre-adulthood mistakes can be factored into sentencing later in life. For example, in United States v. Smalley, the Eighth Circuit ruled that a juvenile adjudication can constitute a prior conviction under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

The appellate court extended that reasoning to find that juvenile adjudications for sexual misconduct can constitute prior convictions for sentencing purposes in ACCA cases, and that juvenile convictions can factor into sentencing in drug offenses.

Here, the district court invoked Smalley to hit Woodard with the enhancement. Woodard argued that Smalley shouldn't apply because it involved the ACCA, a statute that explicitly characterizes juvenile adjudications as prior convictions. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, reasoning that if Smalley could apply in a drug case, it could be applied Woodward's case.

Juvenile records don't necessarily remain in a defendant's past. If you represent a client with a juvenile sexual abuse conviction, that adjudication could be used for a sentence enhancement in a child porn case.

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