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Defendants convicted of possessing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 2252(a)(4) are subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and an increased maximum sentence if they have a prior conviction under the laws of any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.
Petitioner Avondale Lockhart pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2252(a)(4). Because Lockhart had a prior state-court conviction for first-degree sexual abuse involving his adult girlfriend, his presentence report concluded that he was subject to the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence enhancement provided in §2252(b)(2), which was triggered by, inter alia, prior state convictions for crimes “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.” Lockhart argued that the limiting phrase “involving a minor or ward” applied to all three state crimes, so his prior conviction did not trigger the enhancement. Disagreeing, the District Court applied the mandatory minimum. The Second Circuit affirmed. Petitioner challenged the decision.
Did petitioner’s prior conviction for sexual abuse of an adult enhance his current sentence for possession of child pornography?
The Court held that the petitioner’s sentence for possession of child pornography was properly enhanced under 18 U.S.C.S. § 2252(b)(2) based on a prior state conviction for sexual abuse of an adult, since the phrase “involving a minor or ward” modified only abusive sexual conduct under the rule of the last antecedent, and did not modify the preceding bases for the enhancement based on convictions for aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse. According to the Court, parallel provisions for sentence enhancements based on federal convictions using almost identical language supported the interpretation that only abusive sexual conduct required involvement of a minor, since the three predicate convictions were set out in three separate statutes and the involvement of a minor was only required in the statute directed to abusive sexual conduct.