Sunday, February 26, 2017

Case o' The Week: Pic, Sixteen => Mand-Min, Fifteen: Laursen and the Child Porn Production statute.



 A picture is worth . . . 5,475 days.
United States v. Laursen, 2017 WL 460660 (9th Cir. Jan. 30, 2017), decision available here.

The Hon. Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson
 Players: Decision by Judge Rawlinson, joined by Judge Callahan. Concurrence by Judge Hawkins.

Facts: Laursen, 45, had a consensual sexual relationship with a sixteen-year-old girl. Id. at *1. Laursen told police the girl was being prostituted (but did not reveal his relationship). Id. Police examination of the girl’s laptop revealed sexually explicit images of the girl and Laursen. Id. 
  Later, Laursen’s sister gave the police a camera that she found, that contained sexually explicate images of the girl. Id. 
  Laursen was charged with and convicted of production and possession of child porn. Id. at *2. The court rejected a jurisdictional challenge, where Laursen argued that the girl was “not a child” because under Washington law she was a young woman of legal consensual age. Id. at *4. 
  Laursen was sentenced to the mand-min fifteen years. Id.

Issue(s): “In this appeal we address whether taking consensual nude ‘selfies’ involving a forty-five-year-old man and a sixteen-year-old girl is sufficient to support a conviction for production and possession of child pornography.” Id. at *1 (footnote omitted).

Held:We . . . specifically reject the argument made by . . . Laursen that the legality of his sexual relationship with a sixteen-year-old under Washington state law precluded prosecution under federal law.” Id. “[I]n the state of Washington, Laursen’s sexual relationship with [the girl] was legal but the production of pornography stemming from that relationship was not.” Id. at *6.

Of Note: How many seventeen-year olds routinely take consensual and sexual cell phone shots similar to those in Laursen – pics that here resulted in a fifteen year mand-min sentence? That sobering question is asked by Judge Hawkins in his persuasive concurrence.
  Judge Hawkins would adopt a narrower construction of the key term, “uses” in the child production statute. Id. at *8. He would hold that the term “uses,” as the statute references between the photographer and the minor, requires that the defendant must have “exerted some sort of improper influence on the minor for the purpose of producing the visual depiction of sexual conduct.” Id.
  Applying that narrowing definition here, Judge Hawkins would find that Laursen met that requirement: the big age difference between the couple, Laursen’s gift of drugs to the girl, moving her from motel room to motel room, and the girl’s history of abusive relationships were sufficient evidence of improper influence. Id. at *9.
  Judge Hawkins has the better argument: the very expansive definition of the word “uses” in the majority’s opinion means the only limitation on the high mand-min “production” statute is unfettered AUSA discretion.
  Romeo is lucky there were no iPhones in Verona. Amorous teens, beware.

How to Use: This brief opinion quickly mows through a bevy of constitutional and evidentiary challenges. Id. at *4-*8. One of the most concerning is the rejection to the overbreadth challenge. Id. at *6.
  It was undisputed that Laursen could legally have a full consensual sexual relationship with the sixteen-year old girl. Id. at *6. (“[I]ll-advised, but perfectly legal,” as Judge Hawkins observes.). Id. at *8. However, the instant Laursen encouraged the girl to take a consensual nude picture, he fell afoul of the federal “production” statute and bought himself a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence. Id. Notably, there is no evidence that Laursen distributed, transferred, or showed these private pictures to anyone outside of the relationship. Id at *8 (Hawkins, J., concurring).
  The result of Laursen is that consensual intercourse with a sixteen-year old is legal in Washington -- yet encouraging that same sixteen-year old to take a private nude picture converts the relationship into a fifteen-year mand-min federal crime.
  A troubling case that merits a close read for anyone defending child porn production charges.
                                               
For Further Reading: In 2016, the Obama administration started to shut down private federal prisons as prison populations shrank, and after a number of investigations revealed horrific conditions in the for-profit institutions. See article here.
  A.G. Sessions is reversing course. For an interesting -- and disturbing -- piece on the ramifications of the new A.G.’s policy shift, see Private Prisons: Here’s Why Sessions’ Memo Matters, available here.






Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. Website at www.ndcalfpd.org

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