The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today upheld the child pornography convictions against a defendant, ruling the state police investigation was constitutional and the elements of the indictments had been proven by the prosecutor. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Molina.
In 2012, state police troopers were participating in an undercover investigation to identify people possessing and distributing child pornography. A trooper used a specially-designed law enforcement tool to identify a list of files from a computer that were available to be shared with other users. The trooper downloaded two of the files and, sure enough, they contained images of child pornography. As a result, the trooper asked the local district attorney to send a subpoena to Verizon to identify the owner of the computer. Verizon tracked the IP number to an address in Revere where five people, including the defendant, lived. The cops obtained a warrant to search the property for evidence of a crime and found the defendant’s laptop in his bedroom. The defendant, who was sitting in a car in the driveway, told the police he owned the laptop. After the police read the defendant his Miranda rights, he said he was interested in child pornography, he had been downloading child pornography for about five years, and had used multiple file-sharing programs. He was, unsurprisingly, arrested.
The defendant filed motions to suppress the evidence, arguing the police conduct in locating his computer and seizing its contents violated his Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court rejected those arguments and held the search was constitutional. The defendant then suggested the evidence had been insufficient to convict him of possessing child pornography with the intent to disseminate. He argued the Commonwealth had not proven he had a lascivious intent and therefore he should not have been convicted. The applicable statute criminalizes possessing child pornography with the intent to disseminate it, when the defendant’s intent is “lascivious.” “Lascivious intent” is defined by Massachusetts law as “a state of mind in which the sexual gratification or arousal of any person is an objective.” The Supreme Judicial Court concluded the Commonwealth had established the lascivious intent element beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court said the evidence proved the defendant had both downloaded and uploaded files containing children who were naked and engaged in sexual acts. The Court said the jury could have correctly concluded the defendant was personally sexually gratified by sharing the underage pornography images.
As a result of his convictions, the defendant was sentenced to serve two years in jail. After his release, he was required to serve three years of probation and, most importantly, to register as a sex offender. As in every case where the defendant confesses to the police, it’s important to realize how much more difficult it would have been for the Commonwealth to convict the defendant if he had simply kept his mouth shut. A laptop computer was found in a house with five residents. Even if the defendant owned the computer, who’s to say whether one of his roommates used the computer without his permission? The defendant sealed his own fate by deciding to speak to the police.