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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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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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