In United States v. Litzky, No. 20-10709 (Nov. 23, 2021) (Jordan, Newsom, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed defendant’s convictions for possessing child pornography, producing it, and conspiring to do the same.
Defendant raised two issues on appeal: (1) the district court violated her constitutional right to present a defense by excluding expert testimony related to her intellectual disability; and (2) her below-Guidelines sentence was substantively unreasonable.
The district court found that the expert’s proffered testimony failed to focus on the defendant’s specific state of mind at the time of the charged offenses. Therefore, because it failed to show how the defendant was unable to form the required mens rea, it would only serve to confuse the jury. The Court agreed, finding that defendant’s proffered expert testimony was not keyed to any legally acceptable defense theory. The Court found that the defendant had failed to demonstrate a compelling reason for making an exception to the expert witness rule in FRE 702. It reasoned that the defendant’s proffered expert testimony was more akin to justification and excuse rather than a legally acceptable theory of lack of mens rea. The Court also found that defendant failed to show that her proffered expert testimony bore persuasive assurances of trustworthiness as required by Rule 702. “As the Supreme Court [has] explained, the Constitution leaves to the judges who must make these admissibility decisions wide latitude to exclude evidence that poses an undue risk of confusion of the issues.”
The Court also affirmed defendant’s 30-year sentence, which was 600 months below the Guidelines’ recommendation. The district court explained, in a 17-page order, why it believed a downward variance of 50 years–but no more–met the goals of sentencing. The Court found the district court’s determination well within the bounds of its discretion.