Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Use of Peer-to-Peer Software Constitutes Distribution for CP Cases

US v. Stitz: Stitz entered into a plea agreement with the Government to plead guilty to distribution of child pornography. He agreed to a stipulation which set forth that the FBI had used the ARES peer-to-peer file sharing network to download images of child pornography from Stitz's computer (three times). The stipulation also set forth that Stitz told the FBI that he knew "his computer was sharing child pornography files on the ARES network." At sentencing, Stitz argued that he did not intend to distribute any images and his distribution was "passive." In light of that, and other sentencing factors, the district court varied and imposed a sentence or 121 months in prison.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Stitz's conviction. In spite of the plea agreement and stipulation, Stitz argued that there was no factual basis to support a plea of guilty to distribution of child pornography. Reviewing for plain error, the court found not error in the district court accepting Stitz's guilty plea, plain or otherwise. The court noted that the only mens rea requirement for distribution of child pornography is that it was done knowingly, not with bad or evil intent. The record contained multiple instances where Stitz admitted that he knew the files on his computer were being shared with others. The court went on to conclude that the use of a peer-to-peer file sharing system constitutes distribution of child pornography, so long as files are actually available to others. The court had already reached the same conclusion with regard to distribution under the Guidelines and every other Circuit that has decided the issue has reached the same conclusion.

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