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United States v. Esposito

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 1, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Indictment (Doc. 51) filed by Defendant Michael Esposito. The United States opposes the motion. (Doc. 53.) Defendant has filed a reply. (Doc. 55.) Oral argument was heard on March 12, 2019. (Doc. 64.) Further briefing was not required. The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is denied.

         I. Relevant Background

         Defendant represents that, on December 2, 2016, his former wife contacted Corporal C. Gunther of the Baton Rouge City Police Department (“BRPD”) saying that she had found a video of her daughter in her bedroom and bathroom nude. Defendant's former wife stated that she thought Defendant had recorded the video.

         The next day, Gunther contacted Detective Eymard (also with the BRPD). According to Defendant, Eymard “handled the investigation and ultimate arrest of [Defendant]. No Federal agents were involved in the investigation and arrest of [Defendant].” (Doc. 51-1 at 1-2.)

         On December 6, 2016, Eymard and others arrested Defendant. At the time of the arrest, Eymard had a search warrant issued by Judge Marabella of the 19th Judicial District Court. The warrant allowed for the search of Defendant's iPad and other electronic devises. Defendant was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and was released on bond.

         Defendant represents that, on March 22, 2017, the District Attorney's Office for the 19thJudicial District Court filed a Bill of Information. On May 24, 2017, Defendant was arraigned. On June 13, 2017, Defendant's state court counsel filed several motions, including a motion for discovery, motion to suppress, and motion for preliminary exam. Defendant has since been given several follow-up dates, most recently of March 6, 2018.

         Defendant asserts that the “FBI did not intervene into this case until November 21st, 2017, almost a year after his arrest by BRPD. On this date, the FBI interviewed Michelle Esposito (Bolda).” (Doc. 51-1 at 2.)

         On December 21, 2017, Defendant was indicted by a federal Grand Jury for one count of attempted production of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) & (e). (Doc. 1.)

         II. Parties' Arguments

         A. Defendant's Original Memorandum (Doc. 51-1)

         Defendant argues: “Because this is a State prosecution, this Court should abstain from hearing it and dismiss this matter so that it can be handled in the 19th Judicial District Court.” (Doc. 51-1 at 2.) Defendant explains that, while federal courts have an obligation to hear cases, there are “countervailing interests that have justified the development of doctrines under which Federal Courts have discretion to decline to exercise jurisdiction.” (Doc. 51-1 at 3.) Defendant then provides an extensive discussion of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), touching on both comity and “Our Federalism.” Defendant then turns to Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592 (1975), which also noted the “ ‘seriousness of Federal judicial interference with State civil functions . . .' ” (Doc. 51-1 at 4 (citing Huffman, supra).)

Defendant next goes to the instant case. Here:
State court proceedings had been going on for a year before the United States Attorney's Office [USAO] got involved. Moreover, there is nothing Federal about this case in any sense. No Federal agents were involved in the investigation or arrest of Mr. Esposito. A State arrest warrant was issued by a State Court Judge. A State search warrant was issued by a State Court Judge. The District Attorney's Office for the 19th Judicial District Court instituted charges by way of Bill of Information. Mr. Esposito was arraigned and entered a plea of “Not Guilty”. All of this took place long before any Federal intervention. The FBI simply took existing BRPD police reports and copied them, and then interviewed Mrs. Esposito (which the BRPD had already done).
The only link which the United States can come up with to bring this in Federal Court is the allegation that the visual depictions were produced using materials that have been transported through interstate commerce. The U.S. Attorney claims that the camera used by Mr. Esposito was transported in interstate commerce.

(Doc. 51-1 at 4-5.)

         Defendant then analogizes to United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995); though not an abstention case, Defendant believes this case has applicable principles. One such principle is the fact that the federal government is one of enumerated powers. The Lopez court's Commerce Clause analysis is applicable to this case. Specifically, Defendant was charged with violating “a criminal statute that by its terms has nothing to do with Commerce or any sort of economic enterprise.” (Doc. 51-1 at 6.) Defendant continues: “The apparent nexus to the Commerce Clause and/or Federal jurisdiction is the allegation that the camera which Mr. Esposito may have used was not manufactured in the State of Louisiana. Other than that tenuous connection, everything about this case is State and local in nature.” (Doc. 51-1 at 6.)

         Defendant next focuses on the fact that “State Courts . . . have basically unrestricted powers in defining and enforcing criminal laws, ” unlike federal courts, which are based on enumerated powers. Defendant then quotes from Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993), which says in part: “The States possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law.” (Doc. 51-1 at 6-7 (quoting Brecht, supra).)

         Defendant next points to Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), the “logic and reasoning” of which, Defendant argues, apply here. (Doc. 51-1 at 7.) After laying out the Colorado River factors, Defendant argues that two factors (“avoiding piecemeal litigation and the order in which jurisdiction was obtained”) “weigh heavily in favor of this Court abstaining.” (Doc. 51-1 at 8.)

         Defendant maintains that all of the above abstention doctrines allow federal courts to defer to state-court proceedings. Although each abstention doctrine has different characteristics, the Supreme Court has stated that these various types of abstention are not “rigid pigeonholes in which Federal Court[s] must try to fit cases. Rather, they reflect a complex of considerations designed to soften the tensions inherent in a system that contemplates parallel judicial processes.” (Doc. 51-1 at 8 (citing Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1 (1987).) Defendant concludes:

This is purely a State/local case. It was handled from the beginning by State and local authorities. Federal jurisdiction is tenuous at best. No videos were distributed across State lines. In fact, no videos were distributed at all.
As Younger stated, there has also been a desire to permit State Courts to try State cases free from interference by Federal Courts. The Doctrine of Comity holds that the Federal Government will fare best if the States and their institutions were left free to perform their separate functions in their separate ways. This Court should grant the ...

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