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State, federal double-jeopardy challenge fails

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A man’s claims of federal and state double-jeopardy violations were rejected today by the Indiana Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court in a case involving multiple child pornography videos.

In John Thomas Pontius v. State of Indiana, No. 29A04-1001-CR-24, John Pontius appealed two of his five convictions of possession of child pornography as Class D felonies claiming they violated double-jeopardy laws. He also claimed he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

In May 2007, an Indiana State Police detective investigating Internet crimes involving child exploitation detected transmission of certain suspect images to an Internet Protocol address in Carmel. The images were transmitted between Feb. 19 and March 14, 2007. The detective provided information to Noblesville Police, who determined the specific IP address to which the images had been transmitted. Authorities got a search warrant for the home of Pontius’ grandparents, who were the subscribers at the IP address at issue; Pontius lived with them at certain times in 2007. The computer seized from the home contained four pornographic videos, which were all identified as featuring underage girls.

Upon speaking with Pontius, police learned he had downloaded certain materials on two separate computers. Authorities then got a search warrant for Pontius’ parents’ home and seized the computer there. A search of the computer revealed two videos, both downloaded July 16, 2007.

The state charged Pontius July 27, 2007, with six counts of possession of child pornography, with counts 1-4 corresponding to the videos found on the computer at his grandparents’ home and counts 5 and 6 found on the computer at his parents’ home. There is no dispute, however, that videos 1 and 6, which have the same name, are identical in content.

During his bench trial in May 2009, defense counsel commented he had not watched the videos in question. The court convicted Pontius of counts 1-3, 5, and 6, and acquitted him of count 4 on the basis that the individuals pictured “could be persons who might be 18 years of age.” He was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 3 years on each count, with 545 days executed and 550 days suspended to probation.

On appeal, Pontius argued because of the identical content of videos 1 and 6, his convictions for both violate double jeopardy under the federal and state constitutions. He also argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to view the videos, causing prejudice by permitting Pontius to be convicted of two allegedly identical counts, impeding defense counsel’s ability to cross-examine witnesses regarding the age of video participants, and undermining defense counsel’s argument that Pontius’ possession of the videos was not knowing or intentional.

Pontius claimed that his dual convictions pursuant to Indiana Code Section 35-42-4-4(c) for counts 1 and 6, which are based upon the same video, constitute impermissible multiple convictions in violation of double-jeopardy principles.

Court of Appeals Judge Cale Bradford noted the court recently evaluated Ind. Code Section 35-42-4-4(c) in the context of a double jeopardy challenge. See Brown v. State, 912 N.E.2d at 896. In Brown, the court first considered the plain language of the statute because the legislature had defined the crime of possession of child pornography by referencing objects in the singular – a picture, a videotape, for instance – suggesting that its clear intent was to make the possession of each separate picture or video a distinct occurrence of offensive conduct in violation of the law. The court also considered the policies behind the law: preventing the victimization of children and obstructing the growth of the child pornography industry. Because of that, the Brown court ruled that “‘multiple convictions and punishments for possession of child pornography distinguished only by the image so possessed do not violate federal double jeopardy principles.’ Id. at 896.”

But in the instant case, the two digital video files at issue are identical and can be distinguished only by the computers on which they were found, the location of the computers, and the time of their downloads. The state argued those distinctions were adequate to sustain separate convictions, citing the New Hampshire case of State v. Ravell, 922 A.2d 685 (N.H. 2007).

In agreeing with the Ravell court, the appellate panel in the instant case wrote that limiting convictions for “double” possession of duplicate copies of child pornography on different computers or hard drives dilutes the legislature’s purpose of preventing child exploitation and growth of the child pornography industry.

“Were Videos 1 and 6 in the instant case the product of data back-up protocols or procedures, perhaps the broad language of section 35-42-4-4(c) would not apply. See Ravell, 922 A.2d at 688 …” the court wrote. “But here, while two of Pontius’s convictions were based upon possession of a single digital video file, he downloaded that file at two separate times, onto two separate computers and hard drives located at two separate residences, as Videos 1 and 6. Through two different, volitional transactions, Pontius possessed the same child pornography in two separate places, and he therefore committed two separate crimes. See U.S. v. Planck, 493 F.3d 501, 504 (5th Cir. 2007)….”

The court found no federal double-jeopardy violation.

Regarding the claims of double-jeopardy violations of state law, the court noted that given the separate evidence used to prove the existence of two copies of the same, distinct digital video file, it was rejecting the double-jeopardy challenge under the Indiana Constitution.

The court also found no prejudice regarding the claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel and that the claims do not warrant relief.
 

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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