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U.S. v. SCHNITTKER, NO. 14-4905


Decided: December 2, 2015

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that there was no Double Jeopardy.

This case arose when Michael Schnittker (“Schnittker”) pled to the possession of child pornography under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4) and then was tried and convicted under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2) for the receipt of child pornography. There were two hard drives containing images at issue: the Maxtor hard drive and the Western Digital hard drive. Schnittker brought this appeal, claiming that the plea should have barred his conviction of the second charge due to the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause.

The Fourth Circuit began by briefly reciting the facts and procedural history of the lower court, and then determined that the proper standard of review was de novo. First, the Fourth Circuit determined whether or not the two charges were the same in fact, after assuming for the purposes of this case that they’re the same in law. The Court said that “the inquiry must focus on what a reasonable person would understand at the time the defendant entered his plea, because that is the time at which jeopardy attaches.” The Court decided that an “objective person” in Schnittker’s place would have thought he was pleading guilty to possession only in regard to the Western Digital hard drive. Furthermore, once the government learned of his intent to plea, the government expressly limited his guilty plea to what was found on the Western Digital hard drive, and had spreadsheets documenting the file names on the different hard drives to show that the Maxtor hard drive only applied to Count 1 and the Western Digital hard drive only applied to Count 2. Although the hard drives shared some of the same images, the Court decided that because there were different files on the Western Digital hard drive that did not support the receipt of files that the Maxtor hard drive supported, there was no double jeopardy. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Full opinion

Jennie Rischbieter