Monday, April 10, 2006

U.S. v. Curtin (9th Cir. - April 4, 2006)

Calm down, Judge Trott. Calm down.

It's obvious -- totally, totally obvious -- that the underlying case bothers you. A lot. And, admittedly, there's a fair amount about the case that might well bother anyone. It's about a 42-year old man, Kevin Curtin, who's allegedly trolling the internet looking for minors. And when he allegedly thinks he finds one -- who, of course, is actually a police officer -- after two (sexually explicit) conversations, he arranges to meet her in the most romantic place possible: a bowling alley in Las Vegas. Needless to say, once Kevin shows up, the police arrest him, and charge him with traveling across state lines with intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor.

The 42-year old Kevin's defense is that he never thought that he was actually talking to a 14-year old; that he figured that he was talking -- as he in fact was (!) -- with an older person pretending to be a minor. And that he went to the bowling alley figuring that he'd continue the "fantasy" with whoever it was pretending to be the 14-year old; maybe he'd get a little action with a (somewhat twisted) 30-year old woman, or whatever. Anyway, that's his defense. Maybe it's true. After all, he never actually substantively conversed with the decoy who physically was there to meet with him in the bowling alley. Or maybe it's not true.

It's crystal, crystal clear that Judge Trott thinks that the latter is the case. That this guy is just a sick bastard looking to screw children. And Judge Trott ain't having none of it. Nor does he like it -- at all -- when the majority decides that a new trial is warranted because the district judge erroneously admitted some evidence -- namely, a variety of disturbing incest stories that were so inflammatory that even the district judge couldn't stand to read them. Yikes. (By the way: Should a judge really admit evidence that even he can't bear to read? Pretty shocking. Especially when, as here, their relevance is attenuated, at best.)

Okay. I'm fine with all of that. I can see why the majority holds the way it does. I can also see why Judge Trott might elect to dissent.

But oh my, what a dissent it is. You've got to read this one. It's eighty-three single spaced pages. And the language that's used therein is incredibly, incredibly strong throughout. Judge Trott simply goes off on the majority. Wow. (P.S. - Judge Trott: Thanks for including a lot of the details about the incest stories, including substantial verbatim pages. I always like to get my incest porn from the F.3d's. Ditto for the lengthy verbatim pages that contain the lovely sexual discussion between the 42-year old Kevin and the "14-year old" child. I really want this stuff preserved for eternity. What's next? Screen shots attached an an appendix in the next federal kiddie porn case to reach the Ninth Circuit? Let's show a little discretion here, okay?)

The thing is -- and maybe this is just me -- I could potentially understand it if Judge Trott went ballistic on a majority opinion by, say, Judges Reinhardt and Pregerson that allegedly let off some child molester. I mean, Judge Trott doesn't like (or think much) of those guys anyway, so I could see how a decision by such "activist and unprincipled liberals" might make Judge Trott go crazy and write a ballistic eighty-three page dissent.

But this isn't a criminal conviction reversed by lefties like Reinhardt and Pregerson. This is a majority opinion by Judge Wallace and Judge Rymer. These are among the most hard core conservatives on the Ninth Circuit, especially in criminal cases. When you've got these two agreeing that a conviction has got to be reversed, I don't see how you can possibly go ballistic. I just don't. Isn't there a shred of modesty, or self-doubt, or even just a slight recognition of imperfection, that whispers in your ear: "Hey, maybe if even these two judges think that the conviction should be reversed, even if I disagree, isn't it possible that I'm the one that's wrong on this one?" That should temper your instinctive desire to go medieval and write a dissent like this one?

I guess not. Or at least not here, for Judge Trott. Which is too bad.

Anyway, an interesting dissent. And an interesting case.