November 18, 2017

Tenth Circuit: Mandatory Minimum Sentence Provision in Child Pornography Statute Unconstitutional

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Haymond on Thursday, August 31, 2017.

This appeal comes from the district court’s decision to revoke Andre Haymond’s supervised release based, in part, on a finding that Haymond knowingly possessed thirteen images of child pornography, which were found on his phone by his probation officer. On appeal, Haymond argued that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that he knowingly possessed child pornography, and he argued that the sentence imposed upon him is unconstitutional because it violates his right to due process. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s revocation of Haymond’s supervised release, but holds that the sentencing was unconstitutional.

In regards to Haymond’s sufficiency of the evidence argument, the Tenth Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by relying on a clearly erroneous finding of fact that Haymond knowingly took some act related to the images that resulted in the images being on his phone in a manner consistent with knowing possession, as testimony supports only a finding that the images were accessible on Haymond’s phone, not that Haymond necessarily saved, downloaded, or otherwise placed them there. Nonetheless, the court found that the remaining evidence in the record was sufficient to support a finding that Haymond knowingly possessed the child pornography. The information the court relied on was (1) Haymond had nearly exclusive use and possession of his password-protected phone; (2) at some point, thirteen images of child pornography were accessible somewhere on Haymond’s phone; and (3) the sexual acts depicted in the images are consistent with the images forming the basis of Haymond’s original conviction. The court found the evidence supported a finding that it is more likely than not that Haymond downloaded the images and knowingly possessed child pornography, in violation of his release.

The Circuit then moved on to the constitutional question. Haymond’s original conviction, a class C felony, included a supervised release statute that requires a mandatory term of supervised release of five years to life under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k), which may be revoked if a court later finds that the defendant has violated the conditions of that release. If not for the mandatory sentence required by § 3583(k), the sentence Haymond would have received following revocation of his release would have been significantly lower — two years at the most. The Circuit concluded that § 3583(k) violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments because (1) it strips the sentencing judge of discretion to impose punishment within the statutorily prescribed range; and (2) it imposes heightened punishment on sex offenders, expressly based not on their original crimes of conviction, but on new conduct for which they have not been convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt and for which they may be separately charged, convicted, and punished. The Circuit found that § 3583(k) violates the Sixth Amendment because it punishes the defendant with reincarceration for conduct of which he or she has not been found guilty by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and it raises the possibility that a defendant would be charged and punished twice for the same conduct, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The Circuit noted that the court must refrain from invalidating more of the statute than is necessary. There are two sentences under § 3583(k) that the court found to violate the Constitution by increasing the term of imprisonment authorized by statute based on facts found by a judge, not by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and by tying the available punishment to subsequent conduct, rather than the original crime of conviction. The court concluded that without the unconstitutional provision, all violations of the conditions of supervised release would be governed by a different statute, which the court finds to be more appropriate. The sentences at issue under § 3583(k) are found to be unconstitutional and, therefore, unenforceable.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the revocation of Haymond’s supervised release, VACATED his sentence following that revocation, and REMANDED for resentencing without consideration of § 3583(k)’s mandatory minimum sentence provision or its increased penalties for certain subsequent conduct.

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