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United States v. Wasson

United States District Court, D. Kansas

November 21, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
WAYNE BENJAMIN WASSON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ERIC F. MELGREN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         A jury convicted Defendant Wayne Benjamin Wasson of four counts of transporting child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography. At the close of the Government's evidence, Wasson orally moved for a judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a) on every count in the Indictment. The Court reserved decision on Wasson's motion. Wasson now asks the Court to grant his motion on the basis that the evidence at trial was insufficient to satisfy the elements of the charged offenses. Specifically, he argues that the Government failed to prove the “transports” element of the transportation counts and the commerce clause element of all the counts. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Wasson's motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The Government elicited the following evidence and testimony at trial. Yahoo reported a user identified as “girlwanted lover” to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“NCMEC”) for uploading child pornography via the “messenger.yahoo.com” website on May 29, 2018, and January 6, 2018. Yahoo subsequently provided law enforcement the account information and content, which included a verified phone number and internet protocol (“IP”) address. The user's phone number was confirmed as Wasson's number, and the user's IP address returned to Wasson's address. The contents of the account also revealed that the user sent three emails containing attachments of child pornography to another user on December 29, 2017.

         Google reported a user, “waynehanne0, ” to NCMEC for uploading child pornography on its servers on or about November 27, 2017. The phone number associated with this account was also verified as Wasson's, and the user's IP address also returned to Wasson's address. In response to a search warrant, Google provided law enforcement the account's content, which included images of child pornography and an image of Wasson himself. This image was later observed on Wasson's Facebook page.

         Law enforcement agents obtained and executed a search warrant on Wasson's residence in Great Bend, Kansas. During the search, they found Wasson's phone, a Lexar drive, and a laptop. Information recovered from the phone showed that it contained, in part, user information for the “waynehanne0” Google account. The Lexar drive contained the images uploaded to Google servers by “waynehanne0, ” additional child pornography, and images of Wasson. On the laptop, agents found chat logs from a Skype communication from September 20, 2017, which showed Wasson receiving and discussing the child pornography videos he later sent on December 29, 2017. At the time of the search, Wasson consented to an interview and confirmed his phone number. In a later interview, Wasson admitted receiving child pornography through DropBox and Skype chats and stated that he believed all men have a sexual interest in children.

         The Indictment charged Wasson with four counts of transportation of child pornography occurring on May 29, 2017 (Count 1), November 27, 2017 (Count 2), December 29, 2017 (Count 3), and January 6, 2018 (Count 4). Specifically, for each of the four Counts, the Indictment alleges that Wasson “knowingly transported child pornography . . . using any means and facility of interstate or foreign commerce, and did so in and affecting interstate and foreign commerce by any means including by computer” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(1). The Indictment also charged Wasson with one count of possession of child pornography occurring on or about May 3, 2018 (Count 5). For this count, the Indictment alleges that Wasson “knowingly possessed any computer disk and other material which contained an image of child pornography . . . that had been mailed, shipped and transported in interstate and foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, and such image involved a prepubescent minor and a minor who had not attained the age of 12 years” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B) and (b)(2).

         The case proceeded to trial. At the close of the Government's case, Wasson moved for a judgment of acquittal under Rule 29(a). Wasson argued that the Government failed to present evidence regarding the jurisdictional element of the crimes charged. Specifically, Wasson argued that there was no evidence that the child pornography images were transported in interstate commerce or that the computer or flash drive containing the child pornography images were shipped or transported in interstate commerce. The Court reserved its decision on Wasson's motion until the parties briefed the issue after trial.

         After hearing closing arguments, the jury deliberated and returned a guilty verdict on all five counts. Wasson now moves the Court to grant his motion for judgment of acquittal. The Court held a hearing on Wasson's motion on November 15, 2019.

         II. Legal Standard

         When reviewing the sufficiency of evidence to sustain a guilty verdict, the Court asks whether, “after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”[1]The Court may consider all direct and circumstantial evidence admitted at trial as well as all “reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom.”[2] Substantial evidence must support the conviction, but “it need not conclusively exclude every other reasonable hypothesis and it need not negate all possibilities except guilt.”[3]

         III. Analysis

         Wasson contends that the Government failed to meet its burden of proof on all five counts charged in the Indictment. For the first four counts, the Government charged Wasson under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(1), which provides:

(a) Any person who-
(1) knowingly mails, or transports or ships using any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, any child pornography;
. . .
shall be punished . . . .

         In the fifth count, the Government charged Wasson with possession of child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B) and (b)(2). Section 2252A(a)(5)(B) requires the Government to prove that Wasson:

(B) knowingly possesse[d], or knowingly accesse[d] with intent to view, any book, magazine, periodical, film, videotape, computer disk, or any other material that contains an image of child pornography that has been mailed, or shipped or transported using any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, or that was produced using materials that have been mailed, or shipped or transported in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer.

         During trial, Wasson argued that the Government did not present sufficient evidence to prove the interstate commerce element of both the transportation and possession offenses. In his motion before the Court, Wasson raises this argument again. He also includes an additional argument in his motion. He contends that the Government failed to prove the “transports” element of the transportation offenses. The Court will address the “transports” argument first.

         A. The “Transports” Requirement of ...


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