Police officers executed a warrant to search Travis Hunter Blank’s home after he emailed a video clip depicting child pornography, triggering an investigation. While the cops poked around the house, Blank voluntarily spoke with Detective Jeff Rich.
Blank was refreshingly forthcoming in their conversation. He told Rich that he sent the clip and that he had viewed child pornography for the last 10 years. He completed a written statement admitting that he had viewed 1,000 pictures. While Blank was in custody awaiting trial, several of his phone calls to family members were recorded and later admitted into evidence at trial. In one call, he stated, “I’ve done it before and it’s never been caught” and “I hate to say it, but I should have been caught a long time ago.”
He was convicted.
In light of his confessions, it's surprising that Blank appealed his convictions for transporting and possessing child pornography based on insufficient evidence to support the verdict. What's not surprising is that he lost.
Approximately one month into his pretrial detention, Blank told one of his sisters that he had learned that an attorney had successfully defended a client in a child pornography case by having the defendant blame another individual who resided in the defendant's home. Shortly after this conversation, Blank told his other sister that an English teenager who had lived with Blank for approximately seven years was responsible for the child pornography.
His theory at trial was that the teenager was responsible for the child pornography and that his confessions to officers and family members were merely attempts to protect the teenager from deportation.
(Sidebar: Ah, yes. The always-popular "I-Confessed-To-Protect-My-English-Teenaged-Roommate-But-I've-Changed-My-Mind" defense. Who knew that could fail?)
On appeal, Blank argued that the evidence gave "equal circumstantial support to the possibility" that the teenager was responsible for the child pornography, and that the jury could not reasonably exclude this alternative theory without speculation.
When the government seeks to prove constructive possession of contraband found in a jointly occupied location, it must present additional evidence of the defendant's knowing dominion or control of the contraband, besides the mere joint occupancy of the premises, in order to prove the defendant's constructive possession.
While Blank argued at trial that the teenager was responsible for the images, the government presented overwhelming contrary evidence, including Blank's oral and written statements to both police and his family that he was guilty and had been viewing child pornography for years. Despite Blank's trial testimony that he had been lying to protect the teenager, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the jury could properly choose which of Blank's renditions of the facts was more credible.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed Blank's conviction, finding that there was sufficient evidence for a rational trier of fact to convict him.
- USA v. Travis Blank (Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Fifty Shades of Appeals: What is Sufficient Evidence of Extortion? (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit Blog)
- They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab, and She Appealed (FindLaw's Fifth Circuit Blog)