The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the life sentence of a Jackson, Tennessee man who pleaded guilty to the sexual exploitation of minors and in trafficking child pornography. Stephen Lynn Hammonds, 45, argued on appeal that his 2010 sentence by U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald of Memphis was unreasonable and excessive.
Hammonds argued that mandatory guidelines imposed a sentence that was too harsh for the crime that was committed. Hammonds was originally arrested as part of a larger sting operation in 2009 by the Memphis office of the FBI.
According to court records, Hammonds told FBI agents (posing as children) that he wanted to meet and have sex with them and that he had done so in the past on multiple occasions with his own teenage stepdaughter. Agents with a warrant searched his home and found dozens of files containing child pornography. He then pled guilty to federal charges six months later.
This wasn’t Hammonds’ first time in trouble with the law. In 1998 he was arrested on charges of statutory rape and incest with a young girl between the ages of 13 and 15. This previous convicted served to enhance the guidelines for his federal punishment and led to his life imprisonment.
In his appeal he pointed to a psychologist’s report saying that he was only a medium-low risk of reoffending and he had accepted responsibility for his actions and even helped agents find and convict another child pornographer.
The government argued that Hammonds had bragged about his earlier conviction for incest and used it while looking for new targets of abuse. Judge Donald declared Hammonds to be “particularly dangerous” and deemed him beyond the point of rehabilitation. She said that he needed to be permanently separated from society and the children he might place at risk.
Writing for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Judge Julia Gibbons said Judge Donald did not abuse her discretion in doling out the tough sentence. “The district court did consider the mitigating factors in the case,” Gibbons said, “but found, appropriately and within its discretion, that concerns about the seriousness of the crime and the need to protect the public were paramount.”
Here is the full opinion of the court: United States v. Stephen Hammonds.
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at email@example.com or at 266-0605.)