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United States v. Stitz

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

December 14, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
DEAN PAUL STITZ, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: September 20, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Charlotte. Robert J. Conrad, Jr., District Judge. (3:16-cr-00083-RJC-1)

         ARGUED:

          Randolph Marshall Lee, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Amy Elizabeth Ray, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Jill Westmoreland Rose, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before DUNCAN, DIAZ, and THACKER, Circuit Judges.

          THACKER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Dean Paul Stitz ("Appellant") appeals the district court's determination that a factual basis existed for his plea of guilty to distribution of child pornography. Specifically, the main issues on appeal are whether use of a peer-to-peer file-sharing system constitutes "distribution" of child pornography pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2)(A), and whether Appellant possessed the requisite mens rea. For the following reasons, we answer both questions in the affirmative. Accordingly, we affirm.

         I.

         On April 7, 2016, the Government filed a single-count information charging Appellant with distribution of child pornography by computer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2)(A).[1] Appellant and the Government had previously entered into a plea agreement on April 5, 2016, wherein Appellant stipulated that there was a factual basis for the plea. The parties filed a stipulated factual basis ("Stipulation") signed by the Government and Appellant's counsel as an attachment to the plea agreement. The plea agreement noted that Appellant had read and understood the Stipulation.

         The Stipulation states that on three occasions FBI investigators used the ARES file-sharing network[2] to connect with Appellant's IP address and download child pornography files. Moreover, Appellant admitted in the Stipulation that during an interview with the FBI, he acknowledged that he was aware his computer was sharing child pornography files on the ARES network.

         On April 14, 2016, Appellant appeared in magistrate court for a plea hearing. The court conducted the plea colloquy based on the single-count information, plea agreement, and Stipulation. Appellant confirmed that he was aware the Stipulation had been filed as an attachment to the plea agreement, he had read the Stipulation, and he understood and agreed with the Stipulation.

         On October 26, 2016, the district court conducted a sentencing hearing during which it accepted the Stipulation and found a sufficient factual basis to support the guilty plea as required by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(3). The court calculated Appellant's advisory sentencing range pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines" or "U.S.S.G.") at 151 to 188 months, corresponding to an offense level 34 and criminal history category I. The parties agreed that the calculation was correct.

         During the sentencing hearing, Appellant argued that he was entitled to a lower sentence based on the factors enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Appellant's argument was twofold: (1) his distribution of child pornography ...


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