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Sexual misconduct may not be abusive

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated today a man's sentence following a guilty plea on a child pornography charge because it was unsure whether his previous conviction in Indiana for sexual misconduct with a minor should be considered abusive and allow for his minimum sentence to be increased.

In United States of America v. Sean Osborne, No. 08-1176, Sean Osborne pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 2252(a). Under that section, a defendant with a previous conviction in any state relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual misconduct with a minor or ward would have an increased minimum sentence of 15 years. Osborne was convicted in 2002 of violating Indiana Code Section 35-42-4-9(b), which makes it a crime for someone 18 or older to fondle or touch someone age 14 or 15 with intent to arouse the sexual desires of the child or adult.

The question in this case is whether Osborne's sexual misconduct in the 2002 case was abusive. The District Court ruled every conviction under that state statute arises from abusive sexual conduct and sentenced him to the 15-year minimum.

The federal statute section doesn't define what is abusive nor has any appellate court addressed what makes sexual conduct involving a minor abusive. Interpreting that any offense out of sexual conduct with a minor is abusive would make the use of the word unnecessary in the statute, wrote Judge Frank Easterbrook.

Under I.C. Section 35-42-4-9(b), it's possible for an 18-year-old high school student to be convicted for sexual contact with his or her 15-year-old significant other that may be considered typical behavior for high school students in a relationship.

"Exploratory touching between students in high school is not a form of 'abusive' sexual contact, as that word is ordinarily understood," wrote the judge.

Because of the lack of a definition of abusive under federal Section 2252, the 7th Circuit ruled it's best to say as a matter of federal law that sexual behavior is abusive only if it is similar to one of the crimes denominated as a form of abuse elsewhere in Title 18.

Unless the charging papers can show Osborne has been convicted of violating the Indiana Code in a way that shows abusive sexual behavior, the District Court must treat his 2002 conviction as non-abusive because the elements of the statute permit a conviction for many kinds of conduct that federal law doesn't consider abusive, wrote Judge Easterbrook.

The federal appellate court remanded the case for further proceedings.

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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