USA v. Brent Justice
UNPUBLISHED OPINION FILED. [16-20554 Affirmed in Part, Vacated and Rendered in Part ] Judge: TMR , Judge: LHS , Judge: CH Mandate issue date is 12/12/2017 for Appellant Brent Justice [16-20554]
Date Filed: 11/20/2017
IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
United States Court of Appeals
November 20, 2017
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Lyle W. Cayce
Plaintiff - Appellee
Defendant - Appellant
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Southern District of Texas
USDC No. 4:12-CR-731-2
Before REAVLEY, SOUTHWICK, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.
Brent Justice appeals his conviction on four counts of violations of
18 U.S.C. § 48, specifically, three counts alleging the creation of animal crush
videos and one for distribution of such a video. We vacate the conviction as to
one count (Count 3) and render a judgment of acquittal on that count. In all
other respects, we affirm.
We have seen this case once before. United States v. Richards, 755 F.3d
269 (5th Cir. 2014). In Richards, we concluded that § 48, which prohibits
Pursuant to 5TH CIR. R. 47.5, the court has determined that this opinion should not
be published and is not precedent except under the limited circumstances set forth in 5TH
CIR. R. 47.5.4.
Date Filed: 11/20/2017
certain conduct relating to videos that (1) depict animal abuse and (2) are
obscene, is not facially unconstitutional. In so holding, we incorporated the
limitations on prohibitions of obscenity set forth in Miller v. California, 413
U.S. 15, 24 (1973). Id. at 274–76. In Miller, the Court stated that such
prohibitions must involve the depiction or description of sexual conduct and
“be limited to works [(1)] which, taken as a whole appeal to the prurient
interest in sex, [(2)] which portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way,
and [(3)] which, taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic,
political, or scientific value.” 413 U.S. at. 24.
Following the Richards decision, Justice proceeded to trial before the
bench with respect to three videos: “whitechick” (creation), “blackluvsample”
(creation), and “adammeetseve2” (creation and distribution). The district court
convicted him on all counts and assessed identical sentences of 57 months to
run concurrently, which ultimately resulted in a sentence of fourteen months
after crediting time served in state custody on related state charges. Texas v.
Justice, Harris County, Cause No. 1357897 (2012), modified, Justice v. State,
No. 14-16-00153-CR, 2017 Tex. App. LEXIS 9807 (Tex. App. – Hous. [14th
Dist.] Oct. 19, 2017). Justice appeals, challenging only his convictions, not his
The focus of both sides’ arguments is whether sexual conduct is depicted
in a patently offensive way in these videos. In Miller, the Court gave “plain
examples” of patently offensive conduct. 1 413 U.S. at 25. Justice says that the
Government cannot prosecute conduct that does not fit in those examples.
Justice also argues that any such depictions are too brief to permit conviction.
The Court defined the “plain examples” as “(a) [p]atently offensive representations
or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated [and]
(b) [p]atently offensive representation or descriptions of masturbation, excretory functions,
and lewd exhibition of the genitals.” Miller, 413 U.S. at 25.
Date Filed: 11/20/2017
Finally, Justice contends that any sexual conduct in these videos is not what
is patently offensive; rather, it is the animal cruelty which is patently
We conclude first that it is appropriate to view the videos in their
totality. See United States v. Ragsdale, 426 F.3d 765, 769, 781 (5th Cir. 2005)
(finding entire videotapes obscene even though a victim in one videotape
“seem[ed] to consensually engage in various sexual activities” during the first
half of the videotape). We further conclude that it is unnecessary to resolve
the other legal disputes here. This case can be resolved on the facts of these
particular videos, not abstract principles of law; therefore, any other legal
disputes are not determinative here. Examining the specific videos in full, we
conclude as follows:
1. Even assuming, arguendo, that § 48 obscenity is limited to the “plain
examples,” whitechick and adammeetseve2 (Counts 2, 4, and 5) meet
that test: the former portrays masturbation with a chicken and the latter
portrays simulated sodomy of a cat, both of which are patently offensive
and fall in the plain examples of Miller. See 413 U.S. at 25.
2. On the other hand, even assuming, arguendo, that obscenity is not
limited to the “plain examples,” blackluvsample (Count 3), while clearly
intended to “appeal to the prurient interest,” does not “portray sexual
conduct” and, therefore, while horrific, is not obscene under Miller. See
As a result of these conclusions, we VACATE Justice’s conviction under
Count 3 and RENDER a judgment of acquittal on that count. In all other
respects, we AFFIRM the district court’s judgment. 2
The sentences on all four counts were identical and ran concurrently. At oral
argument, Justice’s counsel conceded that a vacatur of only one conviction would not warrant
a remand for resentencing.
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