Predisposition in child sex sting operations.

"In Internet 'sting' cases such as this," the issue of "what a defendant's state of mind was immediately prior to his contact with a sexual target purporting to be a minor is routinely a serious point of contention. We call the issue one of 'predisposition,' and it is primarily a question of fact." United States v. Curtin, 489 F.3d 935, 951 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc). Concerning such predisposition, "contextual and circumstantial evidence becomes acutely relevant to a defendant's material state of mind 'prior to his contact' with the object of his sexual attention and . . . such evidence is not only admissible, but may be critical." Id. at 952.

Here, the district court did not err in ruling that the ten images depicting child pornography were fairly attributable to Knowles. Forensic testimony indicated that the ten images at issue were kept in the same "AOL Downloads" folder found on Knowles' laptop as a photo depicting "Sassy13 Sarah" sent to Knowles by FBI Special Agent Brillhart, and that storing images in that folder involved a series of interactive steps requiring the user's management (viz., clicking on "save" to download an image attached to an email into the designated folder). This process contrasted with the routine automatic downloading and temporary "caching" of files on the laptop's hard drive by web browser software without any user participation or choice.  (emphasis added.)

Nor did the district court err in ruling that the ten images were relevant to the issue of Knowles' intent, in particular his predisposition for sex with underage girls. The fact that Knowles had saved images of child pornography to his "AOL Downloads" folder tended to show such predisposition, in turn supporting an inference that his intent was to travel to Portland [*4] to attempt to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity. As to Knowles' predisposition, the probative value of these ten images outweighed their potential prejudicial effect, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting them.

United States v. Knowles, No. 08-30063, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 5204, at *2–3–4 (9th Cir. Mar. 12, 2009).

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