April 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Specific Findings Must be Made Before Occupational Restrictions Imposed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Dunn on Tuesday, February 10, 2015.

Michael Dunn was convicted of possession, receipt, and distribution of child pornography and sentenced to 144 months’ imprisonment followed by 25 years’ supervised release after placing images of child pornography in a shared folder on a peer-to-peer file sharing network. The district court imposed several conditions of supervised release, including restricting Dunn’s ability to use and access computers and the internet, and also imposed restitution based on a request from one of the minors depicted in the images Dunn shared. Prior to his conviction, Dunn was a computer teacher and computer technician. Dunn appealed, arguing: (1) the jury was erroneously instructed that by placing the child pornography images in the shared folder, he could be convicted on the distribution charge; (2) his sentences for receipt and distribution are duplicitous; (3) the district court failed to make the necessary findings regarding the occupational restriction imposed during his supervised release; and (4) the district court applied the wrong legal standard in determining the amount of restitution he was required to pay.

The Tenth Circuit first examined the jury instruction issue, and, following its precedent, found that defendant’s knowing placement of the child pornography files into a shared folder was sufficient to constitute distribution. Dunn also argued that the instructions forced the jury to accept the prosecution’s explanation of how the peer-to-peer software worked, but the Tenth Circuit found nothing to support this conclusion, finding instead that the jury was free to accept either the prosecution’s or the defense’s evidence.

As to Dunn’s second point on appeal, the prosecution conceded that Tenth Circuit precedent precluded separate sentences for both receipt and possession of child pornography regarding the same images. The Tenth Circuit agreed and remanded on this point for vacation of one of the sentences.

Dunn also argued that the district court impermissibly imposed special conditions on his release that prevented him from being employed without making specific findings. The 25-year term of special conditions of Dunn’s release include numerous restrictions on Dunn’s ability to use computers and the internet, which impact his employment as a computer technician and computer teacher. Because the district court did not make specific determinations regarding the necessity of the occupational restrictions and did not impose the restrictions for the minimum time necessary, the Tenth Circuit remanded with instructions for the district court to vacate the restrictions and reconsider the issue with proper findings.

Finally, Dunn argued, and the prosecution agreed, that the district court’s imposition of the victim’s entire amount of restitution was inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Paroline v. United States. The Tenth Circuit agreed, and, analyzing Paroline‘s effect on restitution awards in child pornography cases, remanded for the district court to consider Dunn’s actual contribution to the victim’s damages.

The judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions.

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