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Multiplicity: § 948.12, Child Pornography – Photographs Stored on Disk

State v. John Lee Schaefer, 2003 WI App 164, PFR filed 8/21/03
For Schaefer: Jefren E. Olsen, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue/Holding: Individual pornographic photos, all found on the same storage disk, support individual charges, it being “reasonable to assume that the existence of multiple files on the Zip disk demonstrates that Schaefer made a new decision to download a particular image file.9 Therefore, each image file ‘represent[s] a new volitional departure,’ and the charges against Schaefer are different in fact.” ¶50. State v. Multaler, 2002 WI 35, 252 Wis. 2d 54, 643 N.W.2d 437, followed, with this caveat:

¶52. We are not persuaded by Schaefer’s effort to distinguish Multaler. In Koller, we explained:

When a defendant complains prior to trial that criminal charges improperly split a single crime into multiple counts because the alleged factual basis does not show a “new volitional departure,” the pertinent question is whether the State has alleged facts which, if proven, demonstrate a new volitional departure. However, just because the State has properly alleged facts for purposes of multiplicity analysis does not mean the State can prove the alleged facts. Thus, apart from whether there is a basis for a multiplicity challenge to pretrial allegations, events at trial, or otherwise may suggest that the State is unable to actually prove a new volitional departure supporting multiple charging.

Koller, 2001 WI App [253] at ¶34. We take this opportunity to further clarify the appropriate question when a multiplicity challenge is directed at charging. Restating and modifying the first sentence from ¶34 in Koller: When a defendant complains prior to trial that criminal charges improperly split a single crime into multiple counts because the alleged factual basis does not show a “new volitional departure,” the pertinent question is whether the facts alleged by the State, and reasonable inferences from those facts, demonstrate a new volitional departure.¶53. Schaefer’s argument is better suited to a multiplicity objection made during or at the end of trial. Had we a full evidentiary record to review, it is possible that the State’s allegations may not withstand a multiplicity challenge. For example, evidence that images were copied wholesale from another disk or computer could convince the trial court that the charges were not different in fact and therefore only one count should be considered by the jury. But here we have only the charging document and the evidence from the pretrial hearing. Under these circumstances, we determine that Multaler is dispositive. Thus, the fact that there were over thirty-nine separate image files “supports a conclusion that [Schaefer] made a new decision to obtain each one.” Multaler, 2002 WI 35 at ¶58. Here a reasonable inference from the alleged fact that each photograph was contained in a separate computer file is that Schaefer downloaded each file separately and made a separate volitional decision to retain each file.

Nor does the rule of lenity apply as to the permissible unit of prosecution; rather, there is a presumption that the legislature intended cumulative punishment, Multaler controlling this point. ¶¶54-55. Again, a potentially important reservation, ¶56 n. 11:

For example, if the accused downloads several images at once, that are contained in a single computer file, is that still on par with a traditional photo album or is that more like a magazine, which is generally not divided into separate counts for each picture? See City of Madison v. Nickel, 66 Wis. 2d 71, 83-84, 223 N.W.2d 865 (1974) (single sale of four obscene magazines charged as four obscenity offenses under city ordinance precluding sale of obscene material). Under Wis. Stat. § 948.12, the use of the term “motion picture” indicates legislative intent that possession of one movie is a single offense, although a reel of film could contain thousands of individual images. Similarly, the statute refers to a videotape in the singular form. But what if several movies are copied onto one DVD or videotape? It does not appear that State v. Multaler, 2002 WI 35, 252 Wis. 2d 54, 643 N.W.2d 437, provides a ready answer to such situations

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