US v. David Battle, II
UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 1:15-cr-00274-CMH-1 Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. .. [16-4378]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
DAVID ALEXANDER BATTLE, II,
Defendant - Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at
Alexandria. Claude M. Hilton, Senior District Judge. (1:15-cr-00274-CMH-1)
Submitted: May 18, 2017
Decided: June 8, 2017
Before DUNCAN, KEENAN, and FLOYD, Circuit Judges.
Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.
Geremy C. Kamens, Federal Public Defender, Frances H. Pratt, Cadence Mertz, Assistant
Federal Public Defenders, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Dana J. Boente, United
States Attorney, Jay V. Prabhu, Assistant United States Attorney, Lauren E. Britsch,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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A federal jury convicted David Alexander Battle, II of four counts of production
of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) (2012); attempted coercion and
enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 2422(b) (2012); two counts of receipt of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 2252(a)(2), (b) (2012); and distribution of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C.
The district court sentenced Battle to a total of 300 months of
imprisonment and he now appeals. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
On appeal, Battle first challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his
convictions for production of child pornography and attempted coercion of a minor to
engage in illegal sexual activity, arguing that the Government failed to demonstrate that
he acted with the specific intent that visual depictions be produced. We review a district
court’s decision to deny a Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 motion for a judgment of acquittal de novo.
United States v. Smith, 451 F.3d 209, 216 (4th Cir. 2006). A defendant challenging the
sufficiency of the evidence faces a heavy burden. United States v. Beidler, 110 F.3d
1064, 1067 (4th Cir. 1997). In determining whether the evidence is sufficient to support
a conviction, we determine “whether there is substantial evidence in the record, when
viewed in the light most favorable to the government, to support the conviction.” United
States v. Palacios, 677 F.3d 234, 248 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Substantial evidence is “evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as
adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant’s guilt beyond a
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“[d]eterminations of credibility are within the sole province of the jury and are not
susceptible to judicial review.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
Section 2251(a) prohibits a person from persuading, inducing, or enticing any
minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct, “with the intent that such minor engage in
any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such
conduct,” if the person knows or has reason to know that the visual depiction was
produced or transmitted using materials that have been transported in or affecting
interstate commerce. “As the text indicates, § 2251(a) contains a specific intent element:
the government was required to prove that production of a visual depiction was a purpose
of engaging in the sexually explicit conduct.” United States v. Palomino-Coronado, 805
F.3d 127, 130 (4th Cir. 2015). Thus, the defendant must act with the specific intent that a
visual depiction be produced, while that need not be his only purpose in committing the
offense. Id.; see also United States v. Ortiz-Graulau, 526 F.3d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 2008)
(defendant need only have a purpose to make a visual depiction). The government may
meet its burden of proving that the defendant acted with such a purpose through
circumstantial evidence. Palomino-Coronado, 805 F.3d at 131. We have thoroughly
reviewed the record and conclude that there was substantial evidence from which the jury
could conclude that Battle acted with a purpose of producing visual depictions of minors
engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Battle also challenges the constitutionality of the statute, arguing that the statute is
overbroad. “This court reviews a challenge to the constitutionality of a federal statute de
novo.” United States v. Malloy, 568 F.3d 166, 171 (4th Cir. 2009). “The Constitution
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gives significant protection from overbroad laws that chill speech within the First
Amendment’s vast and privileged sphere.” Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S.
234, 244 (2002). “[A] law may be invalidated as overbroad if a substantial number of its
applications are unconstitutional, judged in relation to the statute’s plainly legitimate
sweep.” United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460, 473 (2010) (internal quotation marks
omitted); see also United States v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285, 292 (2008) (“[S]tatute’s
overbreadth must be substantial, not only in an absolute sense, but also relative to the
statute’s plainly legitimate sweep.”) (emphasis in original).
Battle argues that the First Amendment protects images depicting child
pornography where the minor knowingly produces the images himself because the minor
is not being physically abused in such a situation. We disagree. See Malloy, 568 F.3d at
175 (the government “may legitimately protect children from self-destructive decisions
reflecting the youthful poor judgment that makes them, in the eyes of the law, beneath the
age of consent”) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Williams, 553 U.S. at 297
(finding 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a) (2012) not overbroad because it “criminalizes only offers
to provide or requests to obtain contraband—child obscenity and child pornography
involving actual children, both of which are proscribed[,] and the proscription of which is
Battle next argues that the district court abused its discretion in refusing his
proposed jury instruction on the specific intent element. “We review a district court’s
decision to give or refuse to give a jury instruction for abuse of discretion.” United
States v. Smith, 701 F.3d 1002, 1011 (4th Cir. 2012). We will find an abuse of discretion
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in failing to provide an instruction to the jury where (1) the instruction was legally
correct, (2) not substantially covered by the charge to the jury, and (3) dealt with a point
in the trial so important that the failure to provide the instruction seriously impaired the
defendant’s ability to conduct a defense. Id. Here, the district court properly instructed
the jury on the elements of a § 2251(a) offense as this court has previously stated them,
including the specific intent element. See, e.g., Malloy, 568 F.3d at 169. The court’s
instructions, therefore, adequately covered the proposed charge.
Battle also asserts that the district court erred in denying his motion for a new trial
based on comments the prosecutor made during rebuttal argument. “We review for abuse
of discretion a district court’s denial of a motion for a new trial.” United States v. Chong
Lam, 677 F.3d 190, 203 (4th Cir. 2012). “A prosecutor’s statements at trial constitute
reversible error only if they were (1) improper and (2) prejudicially affected the
defendant’s substantial rights so as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial.” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted). The factors relevant to this determination include:
(1) the degree to which the prosecutor’s remarks had a tendency to mislead
the jury and to prejudice the accused; (2) whether the remarks were isolated
or extensive; (3) absent the remarks, the strength of competent proof
introduced to establish the guilt of the accused; and (4) whether the
comments were deliberately placed before the jury to divert attention to
extraneous matters. We also consider (5) whether the prosecutor’s remarks
were invited by improper conduct of defense counsel, and (6) whether
curative instructions were given to the jury.
Id. at 203-04 (alteration omitted). Based on these factors, we conclude that the district
court did not abuse its discretion in denying Battle’s motion for a new trial.
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Finally, Battle challenges the procedural and substantive reasonableness of the
sentence. Specifically, Battle argues that the court failed to respond to his arguments for
a sentence of the statutory mandatory minimum of 15 years of imprisonment and failed to
conduct an adequate individualized assessment of his case in sentencing him.
addition, Battle contends that the below-Guidelines sentence was greater than necessary
to satisfy the statutory sentencing factors identified in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012).
We review a sentence for reasonableness, applying an abuse of discretion
standard. Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 41 (2007); see also United States v. White,
810 F.3d 212, 229 (4th Cir.), cert. denied. 136 S. Ct. 1833 (2016). In so doing, we
examine the sentence for “significant procedural error,” including “failing to calculate (or
improperly calculating) the Guidelines range, treating the Guidelines as mandatory,
failing to consider the § 3553(a) factors, selecting a sentence based on clearly erroneous
facts, or failing to adequately explain the chosen sentence.” Gall, 552 U.S. at 51. We
then review the substantive reasonableness of the sentence. “Any sentence that is within
or below a properly calculated Guidelines range is presumptively reasonable.” White,
810 F.3d at 230 (internal quotation marks omitted).
In sentencing a defendant, a district court must conduct an “individualized
assessment” of the particular facts of every sentence, whether the court imposes a
sentence above, below, or within the Guidelines range. United States v. Carter, 564 F.3d
325, 330 (4th Cir. 2009). In addition, “[w]here [a party] presents nonfrivolous reasons
for imposing a different sentence than that set forth in the advisory Guidelines, a district
judge should address the party’s arguments and explain why he has rejected those
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arguments.” Id. at 328 (internal quotation marks omitted). By drawing arguments from
§ 3553 for a sentence different than the one ultimately imposed, an aggrieved party
sufficiently alerts the district court of its responsibility to render an individualized
explanation addressing those arguments, and thus preserves its claim.” United States v.
Lynn, 592 F.3d 572, 578 (4th Cir. 2010).
When the claim is preserved, we review the issue for an abuse of discretion. Id. at
576, 579. If the district court abused its discretion, we will “reverse unless . . . the error
was harmless;” the government bears the burden of demonstrating the harmlessness of
such error. Id. at 576, 585. We have thoroughly reviewed the record and conclude that
any error in the court’s response to the parties’ sentencing arguments and explanation for
the sentence was harmless.
Moreover, we conclude that the sentence, which was
significantly below the advisory Guidelines range, is also substantively reasonable.
We therefore affirm the district court’s judgment.
We dispense with oral
argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the
materials before this court and argument would not aid in the decisional process.
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