Majority overturns enticement of minor conviction based on error

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Addressing for the issue for the first time, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the “ostrich instruction” in context of 18 U.S.C. Section 2422(b) was not appropriately given to the jury in an enticement of a minor trial.

The Circuit judges unanimously concluded that under the facts of the case, the jury couldn’t have drawn the inference that defendant Mark Ciesiolka deliberately avoided the truth about the age of the person he was chatting with online. Ciesiolka had sexually explicit conversations with “Ashley”, a police officer, who as part of a sting operation told Ciesiolka that she was 13, but whose online profile and photo suggested otherwise. Ashley used a photo of a woman who was in her late 20s and her profile said she liked beer and Purdue University. Ciesiolka arranged to meet up with Ashley but never followed through.

He was convicted of knowingly attempting to persuade, induce, entice and coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity under 18 U.S.C. Section 2422(b). At trial, the government introduced evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) of Ciesiolka’s other instant message conversations with unknown third parties, images of child pornography from his computer, and the testimony of a woman, S.C., who claimed she had sex with Ciesiolka when she was 15.

In United States of America v. Mark Ciesiolka, No. 09-2787, Judges Richard Cudahy, Kenneth Ripple, and David Hamilton agreed that the District Court erred in providing the jury with an ostrich instruction, saying in part: “You may infer knowledge from a combination of suspicion and indifference to the truth, if you find that a person had a strong suspicion that things were not as they seemed or that someone had withheld some important facts, yet shut his eyes for fear of what he would learn, you may conclude that he acted knowingly… .”

Ostrich instructions have been approved by the 7th Circuit in sting operations, but only in limited circumstances.

“We have not approved the use of an ostrich instruction that applied to a defendant’s mistaken belief about circumstances where knowledge of the truth would exonerate a defendant, such as ‘Ashley’s’ true age in this case…” wrote Judge Cudahy.

The judges parted on whether the error constituted a reversible error. Judges Cudahy and Hamilton found it did, because there is a distinct likelihood that jury convicted him based on his merely being suspicious and indifferent about Ashley’s age rather than on a factual determination beyond a reasonable doubt that he believed Ashley was a minor. The majority ordered a new trial, partly based on the instruction and partly because of the District Court’s handling of the government’s Rule 404(b) evidence. They ruled that the District Court abused its discretion in failing to propound reasons for its conclusion that the probative value of S.C.’s testimony, the images of child porn, and the content of Ciesiolka’s IM conversations with third parties was not substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice.

“We have reviewed the transcript of the district court’s Rule 404(b) hearing, but could find no portion within it where the court explained its bare-bones conclusion that ‘the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice,’” wrote Judge Cudahy.

Judge Ripple disagreed, finding the District Court’s verbal explanation, when combined with its explanation in its post-trial order, provided far more than an ample basis for appellate review. The judge found strong evidence in the transcripts of the conversations between Ciesiolka and Ashley and he noted he was quite comfortable in giving full weight to the circumstantial, but nevertheless substantive evidence of guilt supplied through the operation of Rule 404(b).

Judge Ripple also pointed out that the District Court provided limiting instructions twice and that the Circuit Court should continue to treat Rule 404(b) limiting instructions as sufficient to eliminate any residual prejudice presented by such evidence.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.