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United States v. O'Neal

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

May 6, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF
v.
MATTHEW J. O'NEAL, DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS B. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUDGE

         On August 14, 2018, Matthew O'Neal was charged with one count of possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(5)(B) and 2252A(b)(2). [R. 10 (Federal Indictment).] On March 19, 2019, O'Neal appeared for a Change of Plea Hearing. At the Hearing, the Court directed the parties to brief the following issues:

(1) Whether O'Neal's prior misdemeanor conviction for 1st Degree Attempted Sexual Abuse (15-year-old victim) triggers the enhanced penalties under 2252A(b)(2); and
(2) Whether 2252A(b)(2)'s enhanced penalty for “offense involv[ing] a prepubescent minor or a minor who had not attained 12 years of age” has a knowledge element. That is, does the United States need to prove mens rea as to the type of child pornography involved in the offense in order to establish a violation of 2252A(a)(5)(B)?

         [R. 30 (Court Order).] The Court will address each issue in turn.

         Also before the Court is the United States' (“the Government”) Motion for Leave to File Sealed Document. [R. 32.] Without an opposing response from O'Neal, and the Court being otherwise sufficiently advised, the Government's Motion for Leave to File Sealed Document, [R.32], is GRANTED.

         I. The Enhanced Penalties Under § 2252A(b)(2)

         A violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B) calls for a custody sentence of “not more than 10 years.” 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(b)(2). However, if the defendant “has a prior conviction . . . under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward . . . such person shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not less than 10 years nor more than 20 years.” Id. Prior to the federal charge at hand, on March 26, 2012, O'Neal pleaded guilty in Calloway Circuit Court to criminal attempt to first degree sexual abuse in violation of K.R.S. §§ 510.110 and 506.010. [R. 31-1 (Judgment/Sentence).] The Government argues that this state charge triggers enhanced penalties pursuant to § 2552A(b)(2). [R. 31 at 2-7.] O'Neal disagrees.

         As the Sixth Circuit has explained:

When deciding whether a prior state-law conviction triggers an enhanced sentence, we begin with a categorical approach. We look first to the “fact of conviction and the statutory definition of the prior offense”-not the facts underlying the conviction-to determine the nature of the crime. If the state crime of conviction has the same elements as the generic offense-“the offense as commonly understood”-then the prior conviction can serve to enhance the federal sentence.

United States v. Mateen, 806 F.3d 857, 859-60 (6th Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted). However, if the state statute at hand is divisible, i.e., “comprises multiple, alternative versions of the crime, ” the Court may engage in the “modified categorical approach.” Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254, 262-64 (2013). If not all of the crimes listed in the state statute match the generic offense, “a court needs a way to find out which the defendant was convicted of.” Id. at 264. Thus, the “job” of the modified categorical approach is to “identify, from among several alternatives, the crime of conviction so that the court can compare it to the generic offense.” Id. “Put another way, the purpose of the modified categorical approach is simply to determine of what elements the defendant was convicted so that the court can apply the categorical approach.” United States v. Davis, 751 F.3d 769, 776-77 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Descamps, 133 S.Ct. at 2281).

         A. The Categorical Approach

         The statute enhancement at issue here applies to an offender with a prior state conviction “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.” 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(b)(2). The Sixth Circuit has defined sexual abuse consistent with its common meaning, stating that “sexual abuse . . . connotes the use or treatment of so as to injure, hurt, or damage for the purpose of sexual or libidinal gratification.” Mateen, 806 F.3d at 861.

         Turning to the state conviction, O'Neal pleaded guilty to attempted first degree sexual abuse in violation of K.R.S. §§ 510.110 and 506.010.[1] Section 510.110 provides:

(1) A person is guilty of sexual abuse in the first degree when:
(a) He or she subjects another person to sexual contact by forcible compulsion; or
(b) He or she subjects another person to sexual contact who is incapable of consent because he or she:
1. Is physically helpless;
2. Is less than twelve (12) years ...

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