May 20, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Social Media Sharing Can Be “Advertisement” or “Notice” of Child Pornography

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Franklin on Monday, May 11, 2015.

Richard Franklin used a website called GigaTribe to share images of child pornography with the “friends” he allowed into his “tribe.” He was found guilty of five counts at trial, including advertisement or notice of child pornography, and received five consecutive sentences totaling 100 years. He appealed, contending the evidence did not support the conviction based on advertisement or notice, the total sentence was unreasonable, and the judge improperly found facts outside the jury to justify the sentence.

The Tenth Circuit first discussed the “advertisement or notice” charge. Franklin’s conviction was based on 18 U.S.C. § 2251(d)(1), which prohibits “any notice or advertisement seeking or offering” to provide or receive pictures of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The prosecution’s theory was that Franklin had provided advertising or notice by making the images available to his 108 GigaTribe “friends.” Franklin argued that because GigaTribe was a closed network and the statute was limited to indiscriminate public communications, his activity did not constitute advertising or notice. Looking to the dictionary definitions of “advertisement” and “notice,” the Tenth Circuit found no limitation of public communication. The Tenth Circuit likened Franklin’s GigaTribe activity to membership at a wholesale club, which would still constitute “public” activity. The Tenth Circuit further noted that Congress  “surely did not intend to limit the statute’s reach to pedophiles who indiscriminately advertise through traditional modes of communication like television or radio.”

Next, the Tenth Circuit addressed the substantive reasonableness of Franklin’s sentence. On each of the five counts, the district court imposed a separate consecutive sentence between 10 and 30 years, for a total sentence of 100 years. The guideline range in Franklin’s case was life imprisonment. However, Franklin argued the guideline range lacks an empirical basis and is unduly harsh. Under prior circuit precedent, the court determined the guideline range deserves consideration regardless of whether it is empirically based. As to the harshness of the sentence, the Tenth Circuit followed Supreme Court precedent to note it cannot apply a “presumption of unreasonableness” even to sentences outside the guideline range.

The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected Franklin’s argument that his sentence was disproportionate to other sentences for similar conduct. Analyzing Franklin’s proffered examples, the Tenth Circuit found none of the sixteen cases he cited involved the same circumstances as his. Because Franklin did not provide any evidence of nationwide disparities, the Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion by the trial court.

The district court decision was affirmed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind

*