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United States v. Beattie

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 1, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Nicholas Gilbert Beattie Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: January 18, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines

          Before GRUENDER, WOLLMAN, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.


         Nicholas Gilbert Beattie pleaded guilty to receiving visual depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252(a)(2) and (b)(1). The district court[1] sentenced him to 190 months' imprisonment, to be followed by 240 months' supervised release. Beattie appeals, arguing that the government breached the plea agreement and asking that we vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing by a different judge. Beattie further argues that the district court erred in applying a 2-level increase for obstruction of justice pursuant to § 3C1.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G. or Guidelines) and that the court erred in failing to credit Beattie with acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1.

         In an online chat room in November 2015, Beattie, under the username "incestlvr87," posted a fifty-three-second video of an adult performing a sex act on an infant. A concerned citizen reported the video, and law enforcement officials traced the username to Beattie. The concerned citizen also reported that Beattie had tried to persuade her to start an incestuous family, that his prior marriage had ended in divorce because he desired to have an incestuous family, and that his ex-wife had found incest videos on his phone. Beattie also told the concerned citizen his first name, his phone number, and his place of employment.

         Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Beattie's workplace and residence in December 2015. The officers found drugs and drug paraphernalia on Beattie's bed. Several electronic devices were seized from his home, but Beattie refused to unlock his cell phone upon the officers' request. Beattie was then taken into custody on an unrelated warrant. Law enforcement obtained a second search warrant to compel Beattie to provide the passcode to a seized iPhone and iPad, in response to which Beattie provided incorrect passcodes.

         Twenty images and thirty-one videos of child pornography were found on certain electronic devices that were not passcode-protected. The child pornography displayed prepubescent minors engaging in masturbation, oral and vaginal sex, and bestiality. Beattie had also carried out a number of searches and downloads for incest pornography and bestiality.

         Beattie pleaded guilty in October 2017. The plea agreement was subsequently accepted by the district court and provided in part that:

The Government agrees to recommend that Defendant receive credit for acceptance of responsibility under USSG § 3E1.1. The Government reserves the right to oppose a reduction under § 3El.1 if after the plea proceeding Defendant obstructs justice, fails to cooperate fully and truthfully with the United States Probation Office, attempts to withdraw Defendant's plea, or otherwise engages in conduct not consistent with acceptance of responsibility.

         The plea agreement was silent on the government's obligation regarding an obstruction of justice enhancement under § 3C1.1. Following the plea proceeding, the government advised the probation office of its belief that Beattie's Guidelines range was 151-188 months.

         The draft presentence report (PSR) determined that Beattie's base offense level was 22. It applied a 2-level increase for obstruction of justice based on Beattie's failure to disclose correct passcodes, along with several other enhancements not at issue on appeal, and determined that Beattie's total offense level was 39. The PSR did not apply any reduction for acceptance of responsibility. With a criminal history category of I, the Guidelines sentencing range was 262 to 327 months' imprisonment, with a statutory maximum sentence of 240 months' imprisonment. The government objected to the PSR's denial of acceptance of responsibility on December 27, 2017, but remained silent on the obstruction of justice enhancement. The government stated that it "adheres to its agreement to recommend a 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility" but added that "[t]he court will have to determine whether the defendant's refusal to comply with a state warrant to provide access to his phone is sufficient obstruction of justice to merit denial of acceptance of responsibility." Beattie objected to the PSR recommendations as well, challenging the application of the obstruction of justice enhancement and the denial of the acceptance of responsibility reduction.

         The government argued in its sentencing brief that the increase for obstruction of justice was warranted based on Beattie's failure to furnish the passcodes in December 2015. In response, Beattie filed his first motion to compel specific performance of the plea agreement, arguing that the government had breached the agreement by requesting an obstruction of justice enhancement for conduct that occurred prior to the plea proceeding. The government then asserted that although it still adhered "to its general obligation in the Plea Agreement to ask the court to give [Beattie] credit for accepting responsibility," Beattie had engaged in post-plea conduct that called into question his acceptance of responsibility. Specifically, that Beattie had offered expert reports wherein he claimed that he did not remember collecting child pornography. The district court denied Beattie's first motion to compel because the plea agreement did not prohibit the government from advocating for an obstruction of justice enhancement.

         In response to the government's reply to his first motion, Beattie filed a second motion to compel, arguing that the government had breached the plea agreement by indicating that Beattie's statements in the expert reports might warrant a denial of an acceptance of responsibility reduction, even though it ultimately recommended acceptance of responsibility. The district court denied Beattie's second motion to compel, stating at the sentencing hearing that "[h]ere, the Government, in its response to the original motion for a specific ...

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