Fifth Circuit Vacates Child Pornography Sentence

Fifth Circuit Vacates Child Pornography Sentence

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has vacated and remanded the sentence of a convicted child pornographer.

Jason Daniel Scott pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography and was sentenced to 108 months of imprisonment and lifetime supervised release. As part of his supervision, Scott was not allowed to “have access to any computer that is capable of internet access” or “have unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of 18.” Scott appealed these conditions of supervised release, as well as the application of a 5-level sentencing enhancement for distribution of child pornography.

The court vacated the imposition of the 5-level enhancement for distribution of child pornography because the district court failed to find that Scott knowingly used the peer-to-peer file-sharing program LimeWire to distribute child pornography. The court specifically noted that LimeWire comes out of the box with the “share” option turned on and that there was no evidence that Scott knew that his computer was distributing the child pornography that he was downloading.

The court also vacated the two special conditions of supervised release. Noting the “ubiquity and importance of the Internet to the world” and that “no circuit of appeals has ever upheld” a lifetime ban on using any computer with Internet access, the court struck the computer access ban.

The court further found that an absolute lifetime ban on any contact — including incidental contact — with minor children was unreasonably broad. Such a condition would need to be “narrowly tailored to achieve some balance between protecting the defendant’s liberty and the government’s interest in protecting the public,” and this condition was not.

Notably, the government agreed that these conditions should be vacated. The government argued that “Scott — a young man — otherwise would face severe lifelong limits on his freedom of association and his ability to reintegrate into society.” The court agreed but only vacated the conditions and remanded to the district court. This would allow the lower court to re-impose the conditions, but only if they were modified by “reducing their duration or conditioning computer usage or contact with minors on court or probation officer approval.”

Case:  United States v. Scott, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Case No. 15-30516 (April 19, 2016).

Originally published in Criminal Legal News on December 12, 2017.