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Montgomery County man gets below-range prison term for pornographic chat with child overseas

September 11, 2018

A Montgomery County man was sentenced to a five-year prison term Monday after admitting he had a pornographic video chat involving a child in the Philippines and had amassed hundreds of images and videos depicting child pornography at his home.

U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, a Reagan appointee who rarely hesitates to buck up against courtroom norms, strayed from the recommended sentencing range in the case, after previously defying mandated electronic monitoring requirements set by Congress. Sam Robinson, 43, was facing 14 to more than 17 years in prison, but the judge settled on a downward departure nine years below the recommended sentencing range.

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Several federal officials in the room appeared to be startled by the sentence, according to a courtroom observer.

Robinson’s defense attorney, Dan Cogdell, said Hughes is among an array of judges who have made similar sentencing decisions in these types of cases. Cogdell cited a survey a few years ago that found that 70 percent of United States District Judges thought the sentencing guidelines in child pornography cases were too high.

“I don’t speak for Judge Hughes, but obviously the sentence he imposed was one that he felt was appropriate and we concur that the facts in this case simply did not warrant the application of a guidelines range sentence,” Cogdell said.

Paul Doyle, who also represents Robinson in the case, believes there’s a redundancy in sentencing in these cases, which works to defendants’ detriment.

Robinson, an oil and gas consultant, pleaded guilty in April to receipt and possession of pornography, after directing a woman in the Philippines to have sexual contact with a teenage girl through a streaming video feed.

“There is little to distinguish the two other than receipt carries a mandatory minimum of 60 months and possession does not have a mandatory minimum,” Doyle noted. “You cannot possesses something without receiving it first.”

Federal prosecutors could not be reached for immediate comment.

Following the online chat, FBI executed a search at Robinson’s home and discovered 750 images and 127 videos depicting children engaging in sex acts.

A provision in the Bail Reform Act called the Adam Walsh amendment requires that judges automatically impose electronic monitoring for suspects accused of sexual offenses involving children. However, Hughes ordered Robinson’s ankle monitor be removed at that April hearing. He did not explicitly say why he was defying the Adam Walsh requirement, but the judge had likely determined that the provision was unconstitutional.

“It’s not illegal to have a preference for children,” Hughes said the April hearing. “It’s illegal to act on it.”

Hughes joined a growing number of federal judges around the country who have ruled that the Adam Walsh act is unconstitutional. In multiple jurisdictions, federal judges and magistrates have ruled that the law violates equal protection and due process clauses and the separation of powers doctrine. Appeals courts in two circuits have overturned these rulings, but several defense lawyers who frequently try these cases said the law is not settled.

Gabrielle Banks covers federal court for the Houston Chronicle. Follow her on Twitter and send her tips at gabrielle.banks@chron.com.

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