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United States v. Charriez-Rolon

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 1, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
RANDY CHARRIEZ-ROLÓN, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Aida M. Delgado-Colón, U.S. District Judge]

          Alan Jay Black, for appellant.

          Christopher J. Smith, Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Franscisco A. Besosa-Martínez, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Lipez, and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          THOMPSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Randy Charriez-Rolón (Charriez, for short) stands convicted of possessing child pornography and transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. For his crimes, he received an effective sentence of 420 months in prison (because the district judge ordered concurrent time). Charriez now appeals, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of possessing child pornography and that the prosecutor's comments during closing arguments crossed constitutional lines. Neither of his arguments persuade us, so we affirm his conviction on all counts.

         BACKGROUND

         Because Charriez challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, among other things, we state the facts in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict. See United States v. Santos-Soto, 799 F.3d 49, 56-57 (1st Cir. 2015).

         A. XFS Moves In[1]

         In 2009, when he was five years old, XFS and his family moved into a neighborhood called "Las Cuchillas" in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico - four houses away from Charriez. There, XFS lived with his parents and four siblings: two older sisters, one older brother, and one younger sister. About a year after XFS and his family moved in, Charriez approached XFS's mother and offered a helping hand for whatever the family might need in the future.

         The family welcomed the help, and Charriez began regularly spending time at XFS's home as a friendship developed. Charriez offered neighborly gestures, for instance when XFS's parents could not pick up the kids from school, Charriez would get them home. When he ran errands, Charriez would visit the kids and take them along for the ride. He got close to them, particularly with XFS.

         And XFS, who was bullied at school and had trouble communicating with others, welcomed Charriez's invitations at first. After all, Charriez was showering him and his siblings with gifts such as ice cream, video games, bicycles, and even a bunk bed worth $1, 000 for the boys. Unfortunately, though, things are not always as they seem, and XFS's view of Charriez quickly changed - with good reason, as we are about to see.

         B. Charriez's Sexual Abuse of XFS

         In the fall of 2013, XFS was starting the third grade and doing well. That December, though, XFS's mother learned that his grades were slipping, and so she asked him what was going on. He told her that he just couldn't think. By February, XFS was failing every class. Eventually, XFS spoke with his uncle and revealed a horrifying secret about Charriez.

         Turns out, Charriez's intentions were anything but pure. After picking up the kids from school, Charriez would drop them all off at home - all, that is, except for XFS, who Charriez would spend more time with without the parents' permission. Strangely, too, at night Charriez would climb up a balcony to get into the children's bedroom.

         But that was only the beginning. Charriez began showing XFS "bad things" on his cellphone (more on that later). And his gifts now came with conditions. For example, if XFS wanted to ride the bike Charriez bought him, XFS had to let Charriez put his finger into XFS's anus. Once, when XFS refused, Charriez shot him in the knee with a pellet gun, tied him up, and sexually assaulted him. Charriez used Vaseline each time to facilitate the assaults.

         And to Charriez, location did not matter. He would assault XFS in restroom facilities at public parks and fast food restaurants. In his vehicle with tinted windows, he would drive to isolated areas of public parking lots and assault XFS in the passenger's seat. The abuse began in late 2013 and continued until law enforcement got involved the following spring.

         C. Charriez Gets Arrested

         The month after XFS spoke up about the abuses, police arrested Charriez. Waiving his Miranda rights[2] Charriez gave police permission to search his home, vehicle, and cellphone while they interviewed him at the local station. At his home, police found a jar of Vaseline. In his car, they found a pellet gun under the driver's seat. On his phone, they found what appeared to be seven sexually explicit images involving minors (children under the age of eighteen).

         When questioned by police, Charriez admitted to having a "curiosity" for children, which he blamed on allegedly being molested as a child. He also said he would use his cellphone to search the internet, using terms in Google like "youngsters," "pornography," "anal sex," and "pedophilia." And he said he knew child pornography involved minors around age 14 and would "download adult and child pornography," watch it, and then erase it.

         Armed with these facts, a grand jury indicted Charriez for possessing child pornography and transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 2423(a), 2252A(a)(5)(B) and (b)(2). He pled not guilty and went to trial.

         D. The Trial

         Covering only the highlights, we note that the government's case against Charriez included:

• physical evidence - the pellet gun and the tub of Vaseline;
• documentary evidence - account statements for the bunk bed Charriez ...

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