7th Circuit upholds de facto life sentence for ‘shocking, horrific’ child sex abuse

A man convicted of “horrific” sexual and other abuse against his son failed to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that a federal judge erred in imposing a de facto life sentence.

In United States of America v. Jeffrey Esposito, 20-1124, defendant Jeffrey Esposito sexually assaulted and abused his adopted son from Guatemala from the time the child was 7 or 8 until he was about 14. The 7th Circuit called Esposito’s crimes “repetitive, shocking, and horrific,” describing sexual abuse as well as choking the child, urinating on him and putting a collar on him, among other forms of abuse, which were documented in photos and videos.

Those photos and videos were shared on the dark web. Esposito also downloaded hundreds of thousands of other child porn files before he was arrested and charged with 20 counts of sexually exploiting a minor and one count of possessing child pornography.

Esposito pleaded guilty to the charges without a plea agreement. The federal probation department recommended a sentence of 600 years and the government argued for 620 years, but the defense suggested only 420 months.

The Indiana Southern District Court ultimately imposed a de facto life sentence, sentencing Esposito to six consecutive 30-year sentences followed by 15 concurrent 20-year sentences. Esposito appealed his sentence, but the 7th Circuit affirmed in a Friday opinion.

After deciding de novo review was the appropriate standard for Esposito’s appeal, Judge Michael Brennan, writing for a unanimous appellate panel, rejected Esposito’s argument that the district court should have determined his correct overall punishment, then conformed his sentences on the individual counts to reach that total.

“Esposito’s argument here is technical, and it imports a methodology that the (Sentencing) Guidelines do not require. If, before delving into imposing sentences count by count, the district court had stated that it thought the correct total punishment was 200 years — rather than merely saying that the correct total punishment was a de facto life sentence — then, per Esposito, the district court would not have erred,” Brennan wrote. “After its sentencing remarks, the district court imposed sentences count by count and noted that the total was 200 years. To the defendant, this suggests the court did not come up with the 200-year number first and then set the count-by-count sentences, but did the opposite, setting the count-by-count sentences and then adding them up to total 200 years.

“The difficulty with Esposito’s argument,” Brennan continued, “is that before imposing sentence, the district court effectively determined that Esposito’s total punishment should be life imprisonment. The court’s sentencing comments evince that it was pronouncing prison terms on each count.”

The appellate panel pointed to the district court’s consideration of Esposito’s life expectancy, the severity of his crimes and its statement that he could never be around children again. Based on that, the panel held, “we can conclude that the court meant to impose what is effectively a life sentence.”

Further, Brennan wrote, the district court used consecutive sentences to achieve an effective life sentence, because the highest statutory maximum was less than life in prison.

“The text of § 5G1.2(b) provides that the court shall determine the total punishment ‘and’ shall impose that total punishment on each such count. That provision does not say ‘and then’ or explicitly set out the calculative process the defendant contends” Brennan wrote, referencing the Sentencing Guidelines.

“… This case fits better under § 5G1.2(d), as the defendant presented with no prior criminal history, so without any single count expressly providing for life imprisonment, the court meted out a term of de facto life imprisonment by means of the consecutive and concurrent sentences imposed here.”

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