Michigan Supreme Court Changes the Rule on Child Pornography

MUSKEGON COUNTY — The Michigan Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of former Egelston Township Treasurer Brian Lee Hill for “producing” child pornography, a 20-year felony, by downloading it off the Internet and burning it onto compact discs for his own use.

Instead, the proper conviction should have been possession of child porn, a 4-year felony, the high court ruled.

The decision reversed a 2006 pretrial ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which the appeals court reaffirmed in 2009. That ruling set a statewide precedent by declaring, for the first time by a Michigan appellate court, that such conduct was manufacturing child porn, even if — as in Hill’s case — it was for his personal use only.

The implications for the many other people already convicted across Michigan under the old legal standard were not immediately clear. Neither Hill’s Grand Rapids attorney nor Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony Tague could be reached for comment late Friday.

The state’s high court, by a 4-3 vote, vacated Hill’s convictions and remanded the case “for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”

It also wasn’t immediately clear if Hill would be freed pending a potential retrial.

Hill, now 42, has already been in prison nearly three years. Under the original conviction, his earliest “out” date would be May 22, 2012, with a “maximum” date of Aug. 22, 2027, according to the state corrections department website. Hill is a minimum-security inmate at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Lenawee County.

He was sentenced Aug. 22, 2007, to concurrent terms of four years nine months to 20 years for five counts of creating or manufacturing child sexually abusive materials; the same sentences for five counts of using a computer to commit those crimes; and two years for three counts of eavesdropping by installing a video device.

Muskegon County 14th Circuit Judge Timothy G. Hicks convicted Hill of those 13 felony counts after a four-hour bench trial in July 2007. Almost the sole issue was the manufacturing vs. possession debate. Hill’s attorney conceded nearly all the factual points raised by the prosecutor.

Hill, the longtime elected treasurer of Egelston Township, was arrested and charged in November 2004. He resigned his post in November 2005.

He had a hidden life that included secretly videotaping teenage male exchange students using his shower, from a camera concealed in a bathroom boom box.

A hoard of more than 100,000 images were found on a computer hard drive and compact discs, “70 or 80 percent” of which were child pornography, according to a State Police computer expert.

Friday’s decision was authored by Justice Stephen J. Markman, with Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly and justices Michael F. Cavanagh and Diane M. Hathaway concurring. Dissenting were Elizabeth A. Weaver, Maura D. Corrigan and Robert P. Young Jr.

via Muskegon Chronicle

Click here to read the Michigan Supreme Court Opinion in PDF format


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