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United States v. Arsenault

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 10, 2016

PATRIK IAN ARSENAULT, Defendant, Appellee.


          Jonathan G. Mermin and Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios, LLP for appellant.

          Margaret D. McGaughey, Assistant United States Attorney, Appellate Chief, and Thomas E. Delahanty II, United States Attorney, on brief, for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Thompson, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          THOMPSON, Circuit Judge

         Appellant Patrik Ian Arsenault, a school aide for special-needs students, pled guilty to sexually exploiting three minors, as well as transporting, receiving, and possessing child pornography. In his appeal, Arsenault challenges the 780-month (or 65-year) sentence given to him as unreasonable. After careful consideration, we find Arsenault's arguments without merit and, accordingly, affirm the sentencing determination of the court below.


         A. Investigation and Underlying Offense

         In the summer of 2013, law enforcement agents began an investigation of Arsenault after confirming child pornography had been uploaded to an image-sharing website from his home.[1] Federal agents then executed a search warrant at Arsenault's residence in Norridgewock, Maine where they sought computer related items in furtherance of the ongoing investigation. After the agents told Arsenault that he was not under arrest and not obligated to answer questions, he chose to talk anyway. Eventually, Arsenault made several rather damning admissions that he had been trading child pornography over the Internet for about a year, had sexually abused two minors, had video recorded and photographed some of his encounters with the children, and had stored images and videos of his sexual acts with them on an external hard drive in his home. At the conclusion of the search, Arsenault was arrested and charged with gross sexual assault in state court and, the following day, was charged by way of complaint in federal district court.

         A subsequent forensic review of Arsenault's hard drive revealed sexually explicit images of Arsenault with a third minor and also uncovered more than 7, 500 images and more than 250 videos depicting prepubescent male children engaged in sexual acts with other children and/or adults. It was also learned that at least two of Arsenault's three victims were special-needs children under the age of twelve, whom Arsenault had been introduced to through his job as an aide for autistic children. On varying occasions, these two victims had been entrusted into Arsenault's overnight care, during which time he drugged and sexually abused them.

         Arsenault was eventually indicted for the sexual exploitation of the three minors, as well as the transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography. On July 8, 2014, Arsenault pled guilty to all six counts of the indictment: the sexual exploitation of the three minors in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251(a) and 2251(e) (Counts I-III); and the transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(1), 2252A(a)(2), 2252A(a)(5)(B) and 2256(8)(A) (Counts IV-VI). Probation filed a presentence investigation report ("PSI") on August 26, 2014. Arsenault failed to file any written objections to that report.

         B. Sentencing Hearing

         During his sentencing hearing, Arsenault again voiced no objections to the PSI, except for a request that the PSI clarify that the three minor victims were not actually his students. Nor did he raise any legal challenges to the recommended Sentencing Guidelines (the "Guidelines") enhancements. The judge proceeded with his sentencing task. After hearing from the families of the victims and noting that he had reviewed the PSI, victim-impact statements, and support letters submitted on Arsenault's behalf, the judge calculated the appropriate Guidelines range. Finding a total offense level -- after all enhancements had been tallied (more on these enhancements later) -- of 43 and a criminal history category of I, the judge found the applicable Guidelines range to be life imprisonment.

         However, the life sentence recommended by the Guidelines was higher than the statutorily authorized maximum sentences. Under the relevant statutes, the maximum statutory sentence for Counts I-III was 30 years each, the maximum statutory sentence for Counts IV and V was 20 years each, and the maximum statutory sentence for Count VI was 10 years. The judge therefore found the applicable range to be the statutory maximum of 1, 680 months, or 140 years. See U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 5G1.1 (U.S. Sentencing Comm'n 2015). After explaining his calculations, the judge again specifically asked Arsenault if he had any objections to these findings and calculations. Counsel for Arsenault responded that he had "no objection."

         Before imposing a sentence, the judge went on to discuss his sentencing rationale in detail. He explicitly stated that he had taken into consideration "each of the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a), including the obligation to impose a sentence that is sufficient, but no greater than necessary to achieve the purposes of the law" -- a concept known as the parsimony principle. The judge explained that while he had considered "each statutory factor, " he had concentrated on the "history and characteristics of the defendant, the nature and circumstances of the offense, and the need to protect the public from future crimes of the defendant." After detailing his reasoning, the judge imposed a below-Guidelines sentence of 780 months, or 65 years. Arsenault timely appealed.


         A review for the reasonableness of a sentence is bifurcated, requiring us to ensure that the sentence is both procedurally and substantively reasonable. See United States v. Mendez, 802 F.3d 93, 97 (1st Cir. 2015). We ordinarily review both procedural and substantive reasonableness under a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. United States v. Maisonet-Gonzalez, 785 F.3d 757, 762 (1st Cir. 2015), cert. denied sub nom. Maisonet v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 263 (2015). However, when assessing procedural reasonableness, this Court engages in a multifaceted abuse-of-discretion standard whereby "we afford de novo review to the sentencing court's interpretation and application of the sentencing guidelines, assay the court's factfinding for clear error, and evaluate its judgment calls for abuse of discretion." United States v. Ruiz-Huertas, 792 F.3d 223, 226 (1st. Cir. 2015). If a party fails to preserve claims of error in the court below, these standards of review may be altered. Id. In such instances, review is for plain error. Id.

         Arsenault appears to raise three arguments on appeal: (1) that the judge erred in applying numerous enhancements in his Guidelines calculation; (2) that the judge failed to adequately consider or explain how the 65-year sentence imposed did not violate the parsimony principle; ...

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