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United States v. Needham

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 31, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
James Patrick Needham Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: October 21, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul

          Before LOKEN, SMITH, [1] and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.

          SMITH, Circuit Judge.

         A jury convicted James Needham of possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B) and (b)(2), and distribution of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2) and (b)(1). The district court[2]sentenced Needham to two concurrent 120-month sentences and 15 years' supervised release. On appeal, Needham challenges the district court's (1) evidentiary rulings, (2) rejection of his requested definition of "distribute, " and (3) denial of his motion for new trial and request for an evidentiary hearing on juror misconduct. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm.

         I. Background

         In 2010, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received complaints of suspected child pornography on various GROU.PS websites. GROU.PS is a social-networking platform that enables users to create online groups through which group members can share images and videos.

         Based on these complaints, the FBI began investigating the reported GROU.PS sites. Special Agent Daniel O'Donnell and his team accessed these sites, including one particular group named "boy2kid, " using an administrative account. Special Agent O'Donnell verified that boy2kid's default album contained images of child pornography. In September 2010, the FBI executed a search warrant at GROU.PS's headquarters and obtained information concerning boy2kid and other groups suspected of distributing child pornography. The information recovered included videos, images, chat messages, and comments; group members' profile names, e-mail addresses, and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses; and dates and times of activity on the groups.

         A. Evidence of Possession and Distribution of Child Pornography

         Upon searching GROU.PS, agents discovered GROU.PS had disabled the public version of the boy2kid group. Despite its removal from public access, the data for the boy2kid group remained stored on the GROU.PS server. Special Agent O'Donnell accessed the preserved version of the site and took a screenshot of how the boy2kid group appeared to its members.

         At trial, the government introduced, and the district court admitted, this screenshot over Needham's foundation and hearsay objections. Special Agent O'Donnell testified that aside from a slight difference in background color, the screenshot accurately represented how the boy2kid group appeared before GROU.PS disabled the public link. Specifically, Special Agent O'Donnell stated the "content and categories [depicted in the screenshot] were exactly the same" as that on the formerly public boy2kid group.

         The screenshot of boy2kid group showed that a member known as "rezchub61" uploaded 11 images containing child pornography to the group's default album. Special Agent O'Donnell took a screenshot of rezchub61's profile page, which was admitted over Needham's foundation, hearsay, relevance, and Confrontation Clause objections.

         Special Agent O'Donnell testified that GROU.PS provided him the IP address that rezchub61 used when uploading child pornography to the boy2kid group and the e-mail address associated with rezchub61's member account ("rezchub61@yahoo.com"). Using this information, Special Agent O'Donnell subpoenaed the Internet service provider (ISP) associated with rezchub61's IP address and learned that James Needham was the only customer connected to that IP address. Special Agent O'Donnell created a document that listed each of the 11 images that rezchub61 uploaded to the boy2kid group; identified the time and date of each upload; identified the IP address, ISP, and physical location (city, state, country) from which the images were uploaded; and listed the "User Email" associated with each of the uploads as "rezchub61@yahoo.com." This document ("Government's Exhibit 51") was admitted over Needham's foundation, hearsay, relevancy, and Confrontation Clause objections.

         Based on the information provided by the ISP, the FBI executed a search warrant and seized Needham's computers.[3] During the search, Special Agent Joe Ogden and another agent interviewed Needham outside his home. At trial, Special Agent Ogden testified that during this interview Needham admitted to possessing child pornography; uploading child pornography to GROU.PS sites (including the boy2kid group); and using both the member name "rezchub61" or "redchub61" and e-mail address "rezchub61@yahoo.com" or "redchub61@yahoo.com."

         B. Requested Definition of "Distribute"

         During the final charge conference, Needham requested a jury instruction that defined "distribution" as requiring "proof that another person actually downloaded or obtained the images." The district court denied the requested instruction in favor of the Eighth Circuit Model Jury Instruction on the distribution of child pornography. The jury found Needham guilty of both possessing and distributing child pornography. The district court sentenced Needham to two concurrent 120-month sentences and 15 years' supervised release.

         C. Motion for New Trial Based on Juror Misconduct

         During voir dire, the district judge asked the prospective jurors if they knew any of the attorneys. None of the prospective jurors acknowledged knowing Laura Provinzino, one of the prosecuting ...


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