Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Rogers: Affirming 360-Month Sentence for Production and Distribution of Child Pornography

In United States v. Rogers, No. 18-13532 (Mar. 9, 2021) (Jordan, Jill Pryor, Branch), the Court affirmed defendant's sentence after he pleaded guilty to two counts of production of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a), and one count of distribution of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2).  

Defendant raised various challenges to his 360-month sentence: (1) the district court improperly attributed a four-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2G2.2(b)(4) for sadism/masochism; (2) application of both U.S.S.G. §§ 2G2.2(b)(5) and 4B1.5 was arbitrary and constituted impermissible double counting; (3) the district court improperly applied a two level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2G2.2(b)(6) for the use of a computer; (4) the district court erred in excluding certain evidence at his sentencing hearing; and (5) his sentence was substantively unreasonable. 

As to application of the four-level enhancement under § 2G2.2(b)(4), the Court found its application appropriate because the image depicted the defendant's hands around the throat of the minor victim as she lay nude on the bed, appearing as though he was choking her, thereby, at a minimum, depicting violence.  In so finding, the Court construed the words from the guideline--"sadistic," "masochistic," and "depictions of violence"--according to their ordinary and natural meaning. 

The Court next considered whether application of both § 2G2.2(b)(5)--which provides for a five-level guidelines increase if the defendant engaged in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor--and § 4B1.5--which provides for a five-level increase where the defendant's instant offense of conviction is a covered sex crime and the defendant engaged in a pattern of activity involving prohibited sexual conduct--was arbitrary and constituted impermissible double counting.  Reviewing for plain error, the Court held that the defendant had failed to establish plain error.  Reviewing the language of the guidelines, the Court found that their plain language established that the Sentencing Commission intended for the enhancements to apply cumulatively.  

As for defendant's challenge to the two-level enhancement under § 2G2.2(b)(6) for the use of a computer for the distribution of child pornography, the Court dismissed it as squarely foreclosed by United States v. Little, 864 F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2017).  

Next, the Court addressed the district court's exclusion of evidence at the sentencing hearing regarding two pending state statutory rape cases involving the victim.  The defendant argued that the district court violated his constitutional rights under the confrontation clause, his right to due process, and his right to present a defense when it prevented him from cross-examining the detective about the victim's involvement in two other pending statutory rape cases involving adult men, which he maintains was valuable impeachment and mitigation evidence.  The Court held that the district court's denial of defendant's request did not violate his constitutional rights as the confrontation clause and right to cross-examination do not extend to non-capital sentencing proceedings.  The Court also did not find any abuse of discretion in the district court's decision to disallow the defendant the cross-examination he sought.    

Finally, the Court held that defendant's within-guidelines 360-month sentence was substantively reasonable.