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United States v. Courtade

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

July 3, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
RYAN COURTADE, Defendant-Appellant, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS; WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW ADVANCED ADMINISTRATIVE LITIGATION CLINIC, Amici Supporting Appellant.

          Argued: April 2, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Norfolk. Rebecca Beach Smith, District Judge. (2:15-cr-00029-RBS-LRL-1; 2:16-cv-00736-RBS)

         ARGUED:

          Gregory M. Lipper, CLINTON BROOK & PEED, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Daniel Taylor Young, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Danielle Alexandria Phillips, WASHINGTON & LEE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, Lexington, Virginia, for Amicus Washington and Law University School of Law Administrative Litigation Clinic.

         ON BRIEF:

          Matthew J. Peed, CLINTON BROOK & PEED, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          G. Zachary Terwilliger, United States Attorney, Alexandria, Virginia, Elizabeth M. Yusi, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Elizabeth A. Franklin-Best, Vice-Chairperson Amicus Committee, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS, Columbia, South Carolina; Jonathan L. Marcus, Paul M. Kerlin, Shekida Smith, Ryan Travers, Jeongu Gim, SKADDEN, ARPS, SLATE, MEAGHER & FLOM, LLP, for Amicus National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

          Timothy C. MacDonnell, WASHINGTON & LEE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, Lexington, Virginia, for Amicus Washington and Law University School of Law Advanced Administrative Litigation Clinic.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, and KING, Circuit Judge. [1]

          GREGORY, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Appellant Ryan Courtade seeks post-conviction relief in connection with his guilty plea for possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B). The district court denied Courtade's motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I.

         In August 2014, investigators with the Chesapeake Police Department received a complaint from Courtade's wife alleging that she had discovered Courtade in the bedroom of Jane Doe, his 14-year-old stepdaughter, kneeling by the bed with his hands underneath the sheets while she was asleep. When the police arrived at the residence, an officer found Courtade inside his car breaking a CD. The officer asked Courtade what was on the CD, and he responded that there was "a video of Jane Doe, naked and in the shower." A member of the U.S. Navy who had served as a combat photographer, Courtade said that he had instructed Jane Doe to take the camera-a GoPro video camera belonging to the Navy-into the shower with her "to see if the camera was waterproof." With Courtade's consent, the police then seized computers and other equipment from the residence. On a laptop was a 24-minute video of Jane Doe showering.

         According to a Statement of Facts that Courtade signed, the video begins with Courtade turning on the camera and placing it on the bathroom counter facing the shower. Courtade speaks with Jane Doe and then leaves, at which point Jane Doe "undresses completely, gets in the shower, closes the shower curtain, and turns on the shower." Jane Doe then calls for Courtade, who reenters the bathroom and hands her the camera over the shower rod. Jane Doe holds the camera under the water before returning it to Courtade, who reviews the camera and hands it back to Jane Doe with instructions to put it on the shower floor. Jane Doe complies and then gives the camera back to Courtade. Courtade again places the camera on the bathroom counter facing the shower and leaves the bathroom. Jane Doe "peeks out at the camera a few times," and then exits "at the far end of the shower, drops to the floor, and crawls out of the view of the camera below the countertop." She reappears at the other side of the camera's frame, "dries off, gets dressed," and leaves the bathroom. During the video, Jane Doe's "breasts and genitals are visible at various points."

         In March 2015, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Courtade, and a superseding indictment followed. Count One charged Courtade with production of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a), and Count Two charged him with possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B). In July 2015, the government offered Courtade a plea deal on Count Two, which carried no mandatory minimum and a 10-year statutory maximum. Count One had a 15-year mandatory minimum ...


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