Monday, February 07, 2011

Reversal in CP Receipt case -- Inadequate Guilty Plea Failed to Distinguish Receipt v. Possession

In US v. Szymanski,a published decision issued today (available here), the Sixth Circuit reverses a CP receipt conviction and five-year (mandatory minimum) sentence, clarifying the difference between CP receipt and possession. Implicit in the ruling is that the Government cannot obtain a conviction for CP receipt merely by showing the presence of CP on a computer.

A week before oral argument, the Sixth Circuit sua sponte asked the parties to address the quantum of proof and whether the plea and conviction were proper.

The basis for the reversal is "Szymanski may have unknowingly pled to an offense—subjecting him to a mandatory minimum the district court sought not to impose—whose elements he did not understand and which he may not have committed." Because the "demanding scienter requirement" was not explained to the defendant during the brief guilty plea colloquy, the Sixth Circuit found the defendant "did not have an adequate understanding of the nature of the charge at issue." The case begins:

First, the Supreme Court [in United Statse v. X-Citement Video, Inc., 513 U.S. 64 (1994)] over sixteen years ago, construed the crime at issue to contain an element not necessarily required by its statutory text: a defendant charged with receipt of child pornography must have knowledge, not only as to the act of receipt itself, but also as to the fact that the material he is receiving features minors engaged in explicit sexual conduct. Second, this interpretation of the statute as containing a demanding scienter requirement was never explained to the defendant during the rather brief colloquy preceding the district court’s acceptance of his guilty plea. Indeed, our examination of the record leaves us with the strong impression that the defendant, his counsel, as well as government counsel at the arraignment did not have an adequate understanding of the nature of the charge at issue. Moreover, there is evidence that the defendant specifically denies having any knowledge at all with respect to the content of the material he was receiving at the time of receipt, the very element the Supreme Court held necessary for conviction under the receipt charge. Accordingly, we VACATE the defendant’s conviction and sentence, and REMAND the case for further proceedings.

The Court declined to find harmless error becuase the defendant denied knowing the material he received was CP at the time he received it, and the district court improperly believed CP possession and receipt to require the same elements.

No comments: