Seventh Circuit Twice Vacates Very-Far-Above-Guidelines Sentence for Sex With Minor – U.S. v. Bradley

April 23, 2012 by David S. Seltzer

As a solicitation of a minor criminal defense attorney, I work with people accused of some of the least popular crimes that exist. Of course, no crime is popular in the community, but the attitudes towards people accused of sex crimes involving children are very harsh and punitive. Sometimes, this leads judges to express their feelings in ways that are less than professional, by giving sentences even harsher than the already quite harsh sentencing guidelines require. This may have been the case in United States v. Paul Bradley, a Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case involving a man who pleaded guilty to crossing state lines in order to have sex with a minor he met over the phone. The trial court originally sentenced Bradley, of Illinois, to 240 months of imprisonment despite a guidelines range of 57-71 months. After the Seventh sent the case back in 2010, the judge reinstated the 240 months, requiring the Seventh to act again.

Bradley is an Oregon man who met an Illinois minor named T.S. over an adult phone chatroom, which is not unlike an Internet chatroom. Police found the two of them by the side of the road in Bradley’s car, and Bradley eventually admitted he had traveled to Illinois to meet T.S. despite learning T.S. was only 15. Motel records show Bradley had been in a room with T.S. both that night and a previous night, and DNA testing showed signs of a consensual sexual encounter. (T.S., who suffered humiliation at school, in the wider community and from his father after this was revealed, maintained that he was raped and threatened, but the evidence did not back it up.) A search of Bradley’s computer turned up two child pornography images and two stories about sex with teenaged boys. He ultimately pleaded guilty to traveling across state lines to engage in sexual contact with a minor.

His presentencing report identified no reasons for an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines of 57-71 months, though the prosecution asked for an above-max sentence of 87 months. Nonetheless, the district court imposed a sentence of 240 months in prison — 20 years — with 10 years of supervised release. In its December 2010 original decision, the Seventh Circuit vacated this as unreasonable. It cited the trial court’s “unnecessarily harsh and exaggerated” statements at trial, its speculation that Bradley had had sex with a minor before and its lack of conventional justification for departing. It also asked the court to resolve discrepancies of fact in the presentence report when reconsidering. On remand to a new judge, however, the court compared Bradley’s offense to murder and drug crimes, then resentenced Bradley to 240 months and actually increased the supervised release term to life.

Bradley again appealed, arguing that the court could not justify its drastic upward departure and failed to account for sentencing factors. The Seventh again agreed. With such a drastic departure, the appeals court said, it would have expected a description of the judge’s policy differences with the guidelines, if there was one. The court’s main stated reason for departing was the nature and circumstances of the offense, but the Seventh said the court’s actual statements did little more than restate what was implicit in the offense. Thus, it’s not clear what the court felt was different about this case than any other case with the same charge. Nor do other rationales mentioned provide sufficient justification for the departure, the appeals court said, including comparisons to the mandatory minimums for drug or solicitation crimes. Finally, it agreed that the trial court failed to consider some sentencing factors. It remanded the case to district court for resentencing, again.

As a cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I hope the district court gets the message with this remand. Judging by the record, there are significant questions of fact about Bradley’s conduct and the circumstances of the crime, but neither trial court seemed interested in investigating those facts so it could make a fair decision. Bradley may simply have been unlucky in getting two judges in a row who felt so strongly about child sex crimes, or both judges may have been influenced by local media coverage in the apparently small southern Illinois community. However, neither is a good reason for departing from the sentencing guidelines, as caselaw makes clear. In my work as a sex crimes defense attorney, I rarely see a departure of that magnitude, because it must be well supported by the circumstances.

If you or someone you love stands accused of serious crimes involving technology or the Internet you should call experienced former cyber crime prosecutor David Seltzer. For a free consultation, you can reach us online or call toll-free at 1-888-THE DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

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