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10th Cir: Possess Child Porn, Cross the Dist. Ct., Go To Prison

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By Betty Wang, JD on August 27, 2013 3:54 PM

The Tenth Circuit handed down a ten-year prison term earlier this month, despite an original sentence of only probation.

Defendant David Huffman originally pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B). The maximum sentence for such an offense is ten years, but the court instead decided to sentence Huffman to a 5-year term of probation. Then, he violated this probation within eighteen months. Huffman appealed this sentence, claiming it was substantively unreasonable.

The Tenth, however, found no error in the district court's discretion and affirmed the ten-year sentence.

Huffman had admitted to installing a computer program that was used to download child pornography. He was then found guilty of the child pornography possession charge, and entered a plea agreement with no term of imprisonment, despite the recommendation of the maximum ten-year sentence. Instead, Huffman was sentenced to only 60 months of probation, and had to enroll in a rehabilitation program.

The district court was both wary and hesitant about this decreased sentence for Huffman, but did eventually agree to it, based on Huffman's immaturity, age, and the size of his child pornography collection. However, they made sure to grant the plea bargain with a warning, telling him: "You understand that if I accept this plea agreement and let you participate in this program instead of taking you into prison for 120 months, that if you fall off the track and mess up while you're in this program, that you'll be standing right back here and that there won't be any second chances?"

Huffman then replied, "If I mess up, I deserve it," to which the district court judge said, "I'm going to remember you said that."

During the first year of his probation, Huffman did successfully complete the treatment program, but still managed to commit several violations. This included: watching adult porn at home, testing positive on a drug test, failing to get a job, failing to submit a monthly report, in addition to other violations.

The district court, eager to remedy their mistake of allowing probation in the first place, then imposed the ten-year sentence, almost as promised.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed this, and in assessing the substantive reasonableness claim, found that it was reasonable since the ten-year prison term was within the guideline range for the offense. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3565(a)(2), the Tenth Circuit said, the district court was well within their authority to revoke the probation and reinstate the harsher sentence for the original crime.

Therefore, there was no abuse of discretion on the district court's part. Huffman's subsequent conduct only really validated the district court's initial hesitation and confirmed their gut instinct to go with the imprisonment.

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