Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, February 05, 2021

Isaac: Affirming 80-year Sentence for Producing and Possessing Child Pornography

In United States v. Isaac, No. 19-11239 (Feb. 5, 2021) (Branch, Luck, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed defendant's convictions and 80-year sentence for producing and possessing child pornography.  

Defendant was charged with two counts of producing child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography.  He moved to suppress the evidence found on one of his cellphones, which was found in his car after he had been arrested.  Defendant argued that the warrant authorizing the search of his phone was invalid because the search of his car was an illegal search incident to arrest.  Defendant also challenged the district court's application of a two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2G2.1(b)(5) because the victim was a minor in the defendant's custody, care of supervisory control; a five-level increase under U.S.S.G. 4B1.5(b)(1) for engaging in a pattern of activity involving prohibited sexual conduct; and an enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2G2.2(b)(5) for engaging in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor.  Finally, defendant challenged his sentence as substantively unreasonable.   

 As to the suppression issue, the Court affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress the evidence from his cellphone because the cellphone was recovered pursuant to a valid inventory search.  Here, the car was impounded and searched in line with the police department's standard operating procedures ("SOP").  Per the SOP, officers may impound a car if all reasonable efforts to provide the vehicle driver with alternatives to impoundment have been unsuccessful or impractical due to time or staffing constraints, and must search and inventory a car that has been impounded.  The Court did not find any clear error in the district court's factual determinations as to this issue.

As to the custody, care, or supervisory control enhancement, the Court interpreted its application as broadly inclusive, and defined "care" to mean simply that a person is responsible for looking after the child's wellbeing, even if just temporarily.  It reasoned that because the commentary list of those who would qualify for the enhancement is nonexhaustive and the enhancement is to be applied broadly, the operative language must include defendants whose actual roles in the care of children are comparable to one or more of the commentary's examples.  The Court's reasoning is in line with reasoning from the First, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits.  Under this construction, the minor victim was under the defendant's care because defendant was no different than a temporary caretaker.       

As to the pattern of behavior enhancements, the Court found that the two separate occasions of sexual abuse established a "pattern."  

Finally, the Court found the sentence substantively reasonable because the district court carefully considered the 3553(a) factors, weighed them without making a clear error of judgment, and provided sufficient justification for the sentence imposed.  That the defendant won't live to see the end of his 80-year sentence does not establish that the sentence is unreasonable.