4th Circuit Tosses Conviction for Child Molester; Indirectly Protects Right to Privacy

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 10, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit just tossed a conviction of a man who photographed himself and a 7-year-old girl having sex, the Associated Press reported.

Now before readers take up pitch-forks and torches, it should be noted that the circuit did nothing more than review whether or not the lower court applied the law correctly.

Original Sentence: 30 Years

Anthony Palomino-Coronado was sentenced to 30 years after being convicted of persuading a child to engage in sexual activity for the purpose of filming or photographing that conduct in violation of 18 U.S.C. sec. 2251.

The child in question, identified only as B.H., lived in Laurel, Maryland and was his next door neighbor. Investigations revealed that Coronado frequently spent time with B.H. at his house in non-sexual contexts and had photographs on his cell phone to prove it.

However, after interviewing B.H., it became clear that contact between the two went far beyond just being neighbors. A forensic examination of B.H. soon after she was found revealed that she had sustained an infection that could have only been transmitted to her sexually and that her hymen had been ruptured. She also later told investigators that she and Coronado had sexual contact on at least one occasion. Police later extracted a deleted photograph from Coronado's cell phone that depicted him and B.H. engaged in sexually explicit behavior. He was 19 at the time; she was 7.

18 U.S.C. section 2251(a)

The government indicted Coronado on one count: violation of 18 U.S.C. sec. 2251(a) -- knowingly employing, using, persuading, inducing, enticing, and coercing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of that conduct.

The panel of judges conceded that Palomino took the photograph, but overturned the conviction. The opinion that was so detailed, it almost seemed clear that the court had issues of equity with the ruling. Nevertheless, it overturned the conviction because it concluded that there was not enough evidence in the record that Coronado's act of obtaining the photograph was his reason for having sex with the child.

In the words of Fourth Circuit, "The single photo is not evidence that Palomino-Coronado engaged in sexual activity with B.H. to take a picture, only that he engaged in sexual activity with B.H. and took a picture."

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