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United States v. Adams

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 15, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DAIN JUSTIN ADAMS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         This matter comes before the Court upon the United States' Notice of Intent to Introduce Evidence Pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 414 and 404(b), (Doc. 134), filed December 2, 2019, and the United States' Motion in Limine to Introduce Evidence Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 414 or 404(b), (Doc. 136), filed December 9, 2019. Defendant Dain Justin Adams filed a response to the Motion on December 17, 2019, (Doc. 152), and the Court heard counsel's argument regarding the evidence at the pretrial conference held January 9, 2020, (Doc. 176) (Clerk's Minutes). Having considered the Motion in Limine to Introduce Evidence Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 414 or 404(b), (Doc 136), Defendant's response, applicable law, the evidence, and the argument of counsel at the pretrial conference, the Court grants the Motion in Limine, as set forth below. Further, the Court orders the United States, after conferring with Defendant, to submit a limiting jury instruction as set forth below.

         I. Background

         Defendant is charged with: (1) one count of Possession of Visual Depictions of Minors Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(5)(B), (b)(2), and 2256; (2) one count of Conspiracy to Produce Visual Depictions of Minors Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251(a), (e), and 2256; (3) one count of Receipt of Visual Depictions of Minors Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(2), (b)(1), and 2256; (4) one count of Travel With the Intent to Commit Aggravated Sexual Abuse, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2241(c); and (5)-(6) two counts of Distribution of Visual Depictions of Minors Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(2), (b)(1), and 2256. (Doc. 154). These charges stem from an investigation into Defendant's alleged sharing of child pornography on peer-to-peer software in May 2018. Pursuant to that investigation, law enforcement officers obtained a search warrant for Defendant's residence, where they seized a computer that the United States alleges belonged to Defendant and contained multiple videos and images of child pornography. (Doc. 134) at 1. Law enforcement officers also seized from Defendant's residence a cellphone belonging to Co-Defendant Laurezo, who was Defendant's girlfriend. Id. On the cellphone, law enforcement officers found a video of Co-Defendant performing oral sex on a four-year-old and an extensive chat history on a messaging application between Co-Defendant and Defendant from June 2017 to June 2018. Id. at 2. These chats explicitly discuss Co-Defendant and Defendant's sexual interest in children, a desire to sexually abuse children in Roswell, New Mexico, and plans to film their abuse. Id.

         II. Discussion

         The United States seeks to introduce evidence pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 414 and 404(b) of other acts by Defendant that have not been charged. (Docs. 134 and 136). Specifically, the United States seeks to introduce: (1) testimony and exhibits relating to statements made by Defendant that he molested a minor; (2) evidence demonstrating that Defendant uploaded three files containing child pornography to his Gmail account; (3) evidence that Defendant distributed additional, uncharged images and videos of child pornography to Co-Defendant; (4) evidence that Defendant possessed a USB flash drive containing child pornography; (5) Defendant's computer searches for child pornography and information relating to child pornography; and (6) evidence that Defendant distributed obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of non-real minors and pictures of young girls in sexually suggestive poses or who are nude. (Doc. 134) at 4-7; (Doc. 136) at 7-29.

         A. Admissibility of Evidence Under Rule 414

         The Federal Rules of Evidence generally prohibit “the admission of evidence for the purpose of showing a defendant's propensity to commit bad acts.” United States v. Benally, 500 F.3d 1085, 1089 (10th Cir. 2007); see Fed. R. Evid. 404(b). However, “Rule 414 provides an exception, applicable in criminal child-molestation cases (including child pornography cases), to the general prohibition of evidence regarding the defendant's propensity to commit crimes or other bad acts.” United States v. Mercer, 653 Fed.Appx. 622, 625-26 (10th Cir. 2016). Rule 414 states: “In a criminal case in which a defendant is accused of child molestation, the court may admit evidence that the defendant committed any other child molestation. The evidence may be considered on any matter to which it is relevant.” Fed.R.Evid. 414(a). Rule 414 is designed to “supersede in sex offense cases the restrictive aspects of Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)” and to create a presumption that “evidence admissible pursuant to the proposed rules is typically relevant and probative, and that its probative value is normally not outweighed by any risk of prejudice or other adverse effects.” United States v. Tolbert, 2019 WL 2893846, *5 (D.N.M.) (quoting 140 Cong. Rec. H8991-92 (daily ed. Aug. 21, 1994) (remarks of principal House sponsor, Rep. Molinari)). Accordingly, Rule 414 is designed to allow evidence to prove propensity in certain types of cases. See Benally, 500 F.3d at 1093 (“Evidence of other similar crimes involving sexual assault and child molestation was determined by Congress to be probative of a defendant's propensity to commit such crimes.”).

         For evidence of a prior act of child molestation to be admissible under Rule 414, the trial court must determine whether: (1) the defendant is accused of an offense of child molestation; (2) the evidence is of the defendant's commission of another offense of child molestation; and (3) the evidence is relevant. Id. at 1090. Courts are to “liberally admit evidence of prior uncharged sex offenses.” Id. However, a court must still conduct a Rule 403 balancing test and exclude the evidence “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice.” United States v. Mann, 193 F.3d 1172, 1173 (10th Cir. 1999). When conducting the Rule 403 balancing test on Rule 414 evidence, a district court should consider the following factors: (1) how clearly the prior act has been proven; (2) how probative the evidence is of the material fact it is admitted to prove (specifically the similarity, closeness in time, and frequency of the prior act, and the need for evidence beyond the testimony of the defendant and the alleged victim); (3) how seriously disputed the material fact is; and (4) whether the government can avail itself of any less prejudicial evidence. United States v. Enjady, 134 F.3d 1427, 1433 (10th Cir. 1998); United States v. Sturm, 673 F.3d 1274 (10th Cir. 2012). In addition, when analyzing the probative dangers, a court considers: (1) how likely it is such evidence will contribute to an improperly-based jury verdict; (2) the extent to which such evidence will distract the jury from the central issues of the trial; and (3) how time consuming it will be to prove the prior conduct. Enjady, 134 F.3d at 1433.

         1. Defendant is Accused of an Offense of Child Molestation

         The first prong under Rule 414 requires that Defendant is accused of an offense of child molestation, which is defined, in part, as any conduct prohibited by 18 U.S.C. chapters 109A or 110. Rule 414(d)(2)(B). The crimes with which Defendant is accused in this case are included in 18 U.S.C. chapters 109A and 110, so Defendant is accused of an offense of child molestation and satisfies the first Benally factor.

         2. Evidence is of Commission of Another Offense of Child Molestation

         Next, the Court must determine whether the proffered evidence demonstrates that Defendant has committed another offense of child molestation as defined by Rule 414. The proffered evidence of Defendant's alleged molestation of a minor is a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2241(c) “Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child, ” which is included in 18 U.S.C. chapter 109A. As for evidence regarding Defendant uploading of child pornography to his Gmail account, distributing additional images and videos of child pornography to Co-Defendant, and possessing a USB flash drive containing child pornography, each of these acts is a crime under 18 U.S.C. chapter 110. However, evidence of Defendant's computer searches for child pornography and information relating to child pornography, and of Defendant distributing images that are not necessarily child pornography, does not constitute evidence of an offense of child molestation.[1]As such, these two categories of evidence do not satisfy the second prong of the test for admitting evidence under Rule 414.

         3. Evidence is Relevant

         Next, the Court must determine whether the proffered evidence is relevant. Each of the crimes with which Defendant is charged requires the United States to prove that it was committed knowingly. Evidence that Defendant previously sexually abused a child and that he possessed and distributed additional images of child pornography is relevant to Defendant's knowledge, intent, and motive regarding the charges in this case because it shows Defendant had a sexual interest in children and in obtaining child pornography. The images are also relevant as to the likelihood that Defendant solicited or received any images of child pornography by mistake or by accident. Similarly, the chats in which Defendant expresses a sexual interest in children demonstrate an intent and motive for possessing such images and Defendant's knowledge that these images are sexually explicit. The chats also rebut a defense of mistake or accident. Moreover, the proffered evidence shows Defendant's propensity to commit the charged crimes. See United States v. Guardia, 135 F.3d 1326, 1328 (10th Cir. 1998) (“A defendant with a propensity to commit acts similar to the charged crime is more likely to have committed the charged ...


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