If you have been holding your breath waiting for closure in the criminal and civil trials facing former Saybrook Master Antonio C. Lasaga, stop now. You’ll probably asphyxiate first.
More than two years after Lasaga was arrested on federal child pornography charges and a full year after he pleaded guilty to two of those charges, sentencing in the case is still on hold pending the resolution of a motion to dismiss one of those two counts.
Last February, Lasaga admitted receiving thousands of computer files containing child pornography and possessing two video tapes showing a 13-year-old boy engaged in sexual acts in a Yale geology classroom and the Saybrook master’s house. His guilty pleas were part of an agreement with prosecutors that recommended U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson sentence Lasaga to 11 to 14 years in prison.
Regardless of how it may have seemed then, however, the case is far from over. Lasaga’s attorney, William F. Dow III, moved to dismiss the possession charge on constitutional grounds in November, and Thompson has yet to issue a ruling on the matter.
Dow has declined to comment on any part of the case.
Thompson’s courtroom deputy, Sandy Smith, ascribed the delay in the case to the judge’s full schedule recently and said Thompson would be addressing a backlog of cases in the coming months.
In addition, complicated and constantly shifting legal issues, ranging from the nature of child pornography to constitutional issues, also may hinder the resolution of the motion and the case itself.
Congress, under its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, has given jurisdiction over child pornography cases to federal courts, provided the materials involved were manufactured in another state.
Dow’s motion depends largely on a recent Supreme Court case, United States v. Morrison, in which the Court struck down the provision of the Violence Against Women Act granting victims of gender-motivated violence the ability to sue their attackers in federal court. The Court said violence against women was not commercial in nature and that the statute was thus unconstitutional.
Other defendants in child pornography cases also have attempted to use the Morrison decision to challenge their convictions.
Deputy U.S. Attorney John Danaher said Monday that the government recently advised Thompson of a child pornography case currently before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Bayer, in which the defendant moved to dismiss the charges on similar constitutional grounds.
Decisions made by the 2nd Circuit Court are binding for all U.S. district courts in Connecticut, New York and Vermont, although Thompson will have to decide whether the facts in Bayer are similar enough to those of the Lasaga case to apply.
“Our job is simply to let him know that there are developments that may or may not be relevant to what he’s doing,” Danaher said.
Other appellate courts already have ruled on the child pornography possession statute in the wake of Morrison. The 5th and 7th circuit courts have upheld the constitutionality of the statute, while the 6th Circuit ordered a defendant freed on the basis of the facts in the case but upheld the statute on its face.
Whether the Supreme Court will step in to address the questions raised by these child pornography cases remains to be seen. The Court generally hears a representative case to resolve inconsistencies between the rulings of different circuits or when the justices feel a lower court’s ruling was incorrect.
The Supreme Court did agree recently to take a case regarding computer-generated child pornography after the 9th Circuit ruled that the portion of the Child Pornography Prevention Act banning fabricated images of minors engaged in sexual acts violated the First Amendment because the statute was too broad.
Government attorneys have argued that prosecuting child pornography cases would be far more difficult if the government had to prove the images were of actual children, another factor that may play a role in the Lasaga case.
Regardless of how the federal case is ultimately resolved, however, Lasaga’s legal quandary will be far from over. He also faces state criminal charges for allegedly sexually assaulting the boy in the video tapes and a civil lawsuit by the boy and his mother, all of which are dead in the water until the federal issues are resolved.
“It’s frustrating because nothing’s really moving,” said the boy’s attorney, Frederick J. Trotta. But he added that he understands why federal prosecutors have to keep the evidence against Lasaga in their hands, and he is in no rush.