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United States v. Handerhan

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

January 7, 2014


Argued September 11, 2013

Appeal from the United States District Court For the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Cr. Action No. 10-cr-00298-1) District Judge: Honorable William W. Caldwell

James T. Clancy, Esq. [ARGUED] Counsel for Appellee The United States of America

Philip Gelso, Esq. [ARGUED] Briechle & Gelso, Marissa A. McAndrew, Esq. Briechle & Gelso, Matthew R. Gover, Esq. Brian W. Perry, Esq. Gover, Perry & Shore, Counsel for Appellant Blaine Handerhan

Before: RENDELL, JORDAN, GREENAWAY, JR., Circuit Judges.


GREENAWAY, JR., Circuit Judge.

Blaine Handerhan ("Appellant" or "Handerhan") appeals the District Court's August 21, 2012 judgment of sentence of 96 months' imprisonment. Appellant argues that the sentence he received for possessing thousands of images of child pornography was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Specifically, Appellant contends that the District Court erred by failing to (a) explicitly address his request for a downward departure based on mental health issues and (b) meaningfully consider the factors enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), including Appellant's arguments regarding the unreasonable nature of the relevant Sentencing Guidelines provision, U.S.S.G. § 2G2.2. Although we affirm the District Court's sentence, finding it both procedurally and substantively reasonable, we feel compelled to remind the District Court that motions seeking departure should be formally decided. A reviewing court must know from the record whether a district judge is indeed exercising his or her discretion.


In late 2005, an undercover investigation by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force–a joint organization of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies–determined that a single computer was sharing over "1400 images and/or video files of child pornography" through a file-sharing program. (Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") ¶ 5.) The Pennsylvania State Police were notified and conducted an investigation and learned that the computer in question was located in the residence of Handerhan, a retired Lieutenant, who served for 25 years in the Mount Carmel Police Department. Thereafter, a search warrant was executed on Handerhan's residence and his computer was seized. An evaluation of the computer revealed that it contained over 6, 000 images and video files of child pornography, including images of pre-pubescent children and other images depicting sadomasochism and bondage. In addition, the forensic analysis of Handerhan's computer revealed that he had configured Shareza, a file sharing program, in order to distribute some of the images.

Appellant was charged in a two-count indictment in October 2010 with distribution of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2256(8)(A) and 2252A(2)(a), and with possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2256(8)(A). Handerhan subsequently pled guilty to a single count of possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). In the plea agreement, the Government agreed to dismiss the distribution charge and recommended that Appellant "receive a three-level reduction in the defendant's offense level for acceptance of responsibility." (App. 71.) The Government otherwise reserved the right "to recommend a sentence up to and including the maximum sentence of imprisonment and fine allowable, together with the cost of prosecution." (Id. at 72.)

Prior to Handerhan's sentencing, both parties were given copies of the PSR. The probation officer calculated Appellant's guidelines range as being 151 to 188 months' imprisonment based on an offense level of 34 and a criminal history category of 1.[1] "[H]owever, because the statutory maximum penalty [was] 10 years, the guideline sentence" was set at 120 months. (PSR ¶ 63.) The PSR also stated that there were no identifiable "factors warranting a departure from the guideline range." (Id. at 79.) Appellant filed a sealed Sentencing Memorandum in response, requesting that "the Court apply a downward departure" and arguing that a sentence of 60 months was more appropriate. (App. 28, 38.) Appellant requested the downward departure under U.S.S.G. § 5H1.3[2] and argued that the proposed 120-month sentence was unreasonable in light of the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors.[3]

Appellant argued that a downward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5H1.3 was appropriate "in light of the fact that he suffers from a mental health condition and has taken extraordinary measures to rehabilitate himself." (Id. at 28.) According to Appellant, and supported by various medical documents submitted to the District Court, he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder coupled with an "internet addiction, " manifesting itself in an uncontrollable urge to download and catalogue pornographic images of all kinds. (Id. at 17-18.) Appellant's mental illnesses resulted in Appellant giving into the urge to download thousands of child pornographic images and video, and to store and "meticulously catalogue[]" them on his home computer. (Id. at 18.) Shortly after the police searched his home, Appellant sought treatment from multiple psychiatrists, searching for the most effective treatment. According to all of his psychiatric evaluations, Appellant did not exhibit any sexual attraction to children, nor did he apparently seek out the images in question for purposes of gratifying his sexual urges. (See id.)

Appellant also argued that the proposed Guidelines sentence was inappropriate in light of the § 3553(a) factors. Specifically, Appellant argued that the sentence was inappropriate because: (a) he recognized that what he did was wrong; (b) he acted under compulsion of his mental disorder; (c) he sought treatment for his malady; (d) the Government's proposed sentence was appropriate in the "ordinary" case, not in Appellant's unique circumstances; and (e) Appellant's status as a father and devoted son militated against his long-term incarceration. (See id. at 33-38.)

The District Court subsequently held a sentencing hearing in August 2012. At the hearing, both parties argued the merits of Appellant's request for a downward departure, as well as the evaluation of the § 3553(a) factors, with the Government suggesting that if the District Court were inclined to agree, that it should "exercise its discretion to deny the downward departure, but consider all of [Appellant's arguments] in the context of the § 3553(a) factors for a variance." (Id. at 120.) After both sides made their respective arguments, the District Court ruled as follows:

Well, needless to say, this is a very very unfortunate situation for you, Mr. Handerhan. You did the right thing at least, you acknowledged your participation in this ugly crime. And what I am concerned about in all of these child pornography cases is the fact that it is people who view this and download it and distribute it or just look at it, they're the people ...

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