Maryland Court Rules Victim Not Need Be Aware of Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

In the recently filed case Edward Charles Schmitt v. State of Maryland, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals considered whether evidence was sufficient to convict a man of sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor where the minor was not aware of the abuse or exploitation.

The defendant moved in with his girlfriend in October 2007. His girlfriend had two minor children. In 2009, the girlfriend noticed a memory card hidden behind a picture on a bookshelf where the defendant stored things. She also found a plastic camera the size of a pack of a chewing gum, into which the memory card fit. The girlfriend saw three files on the memory card. The third file was a video of her fifteen-year-old daughter’s bedroom, taken from inside the closet.

On the video, the defendant and his girlfriend’s daughter were each shown. The defendant was shown masturbating. He left. Next the girlfriend’s daughter was shown entering the room and changing her clothes. She testified later that she didn’t place the camera in the closet nor permit the defendant to place it there.

After she saw the video, the girlfriend threw away the camera, but retained possession of the memory card. She confronted the defendant who claimed he would get help. The girlfriend kept the memory card at her office in the police station where she worked as a dispatcher. After she confided in a coworker, her supervisors confronted her and she turned over the card.

That evening a detective met with the defendant’s girlfriend about the defendant’s behavior and took the memory card and adapter that she used to look at the video. The girlfriend’s daughter later testified that she did not know that she was being video recorded, nor did she know when the video was taken, though she thought it might have been winter.

The defendant made a motion and argued that this set of facts was insufficient to prove the crimes with which he was charged: sexual abuse/exploitation of a minor, visual surveillance with prurient interest of an individual in a private place, (3) visual surveillance with prurient interest of an individual in the private area of a public or private place, and (4) camera surveillance inside a private residence. Although the circuit court dismissed the second charge, it found the defendant guilty of visual surveillance with prurient interest of an individual in the private area of a public or private place.

With respect to the charge of sexual abuse of a minor, the defendant argued that videotaping her could not be construed as “sexual molestation or exploitation” of his girlfriend’s daughter. The circuit court disagreed, holding that he was guilty of exploitation.

At the sentencing hearing, the girlfriend’s daughter testified she had been traumatized by the events. The defendant entered a guilty plea with the federal government in exchange for 84 months of incarceration. The circuit court sentenced the defendant to consecutive terms of 4 years incarceration on the sexual abuse/exploitation charge and incarceration for 1 year on the visual surveillance charge.

On appeal, the defendant again argued that his conduct did not constitute sexual exploitation of his girlfriend’s daughter. He said that Maryland case law required his actions to involve “taking advantage of another person” and that they had have “an adverse sexual impact on the victim.” According to the defendant, since his girlfriend’s daughter didn’t know she was being videotaped the harm she suffered resulted from finding out she was videotaped, rather from the action of being videotaped.

The State of Maryland argued that on the contrary, it was not required to show the girlfriend’s daughter knew about his conduct at the time it happened, nor that it had an adverse sexual impact. From the State’s perspective it was sufficient to show that his conduct constituted taking advantage of a minor for selfish, sexual purposes.

The appellate court agreed with the State, holding the elements were (1) defendant was a family or household member with care, custody or responsibility of the victim, (2) the victim was a minor, and (3) the defendant committed a specific act to molest or exploit the minor. Furthermore, there was no need for the State to show that there was a specific adverse impact upon the victim.

An accusation or conviction of a crime such as child sexual abuse carries serious legal and social consequences. If you or a loved one is accused or arrested, you should make sure you hire a qualified and knowledgeable criminal law attorney. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation. They have years of experience in Maryland criminal defense including charges involving drugs, handguns, domestic violence, DWI, sex offenses, felony, theft, and assault.

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