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National Crime Victim Law Institute

United States v. Spensley, No. 09-CV-20082, 2011 WL 165835 (C.D. Ill. Jan. 19, 2011).

January 25, 2011

Defendant was indicted on several charges relating to production and possession of child pornography.  Prior to trial, he filed a motion in limine in which he made two arguments.  First, he objected to the designation of the images involved in the case as “child pornography.”  He argued that one issue in the case is whether the images in question meet the federal definition of child pornography, and thus to characterize them as child pornography is argumentative and subverts defendant’s presumption of innocence.  Second, defendant argued that it would be prejudicial to refer to the victim in the case as a “victim” because “[n]o one is a victim until the court or a jury makes a finding of proof beyond a reasonable doubt on the charged offenses.”   Defendant also argued that referring to the victim as a victim is argumentative and would subvert defendant’s presumption of innocence and dilute the government’s burden of proof.  The court disagreed with defendant’s arguments, explaining first that “child pornography” is a statutorily defined term and that the grand jury indicted defendant on crimes related to child pornography; as a result, prohibiting the government from referring to the images as child pornography would be unnecessarily cumbersome.  The court disagreed with defendant’s second argument as well, citing to the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771.  The court recognized that a “victim” is a statutorily defined term under the CVRA, and that pursuant to the CVRA, victims are entitled to rights throughout the pendency of the case and before any finding of guilt.  Specifically, the court noted that victims are entitled to be “treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.”  The court also noted that agents and officers involved in the case have been trained to protect the victim’s privacy by referring to her as a victim rather than by her full name.  Further, the court found that the jury would not be inflamed or prejudiced against defendant by referring to the victim as a victim.  Accordingly, the court denied defendant’s motion in limine, holding that the government “may refer to the digital images in question that depict sexually explicit content as ‘suspected child pornography[,]’” and may refer to the victim as a “victim.”