A Knoxville, Tennessee man convicted of producing child pornography, including the videotaped sexual abuse of a 4-and-a-half-year-old girl visiting his home, has been sentenced to serve six decades in a federal prison after trying and failing to get out of his guilty plea.
Andrew Stephen Couch, 37, learned of his punishment Thursday in the Eastern District of Tennessee courtroom from U.S. District Judge Katherine A. Crytzer, a late 2020 Trump appointee implicated in the conduct of Judge Brett Kavanaugh during Senate confirmation hearings following his Supreme Court nomination. Krytzer sentenced Couch to serve 60 years – two consecutive 30-year sentences – plus a lifetime supervised release.
Notably, Couch’s defense attorney, Mike Whalen, filed a motion on February 2 to withdraw his client’s guilty plea to two counts of producing child pornography (counts 2 and 3 of the indictment). ).
“By viewing the plea agreement as a contract, it is clear that a near tripling of the length of the sentence would suggest that the parties did not reach an agreement and, as such, Mr Counch [sic] should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea,” the attorney wrote.
In a December 2022 sentencing memorandum, the defense attorney railed against the “unelected” U.S. Sentencing Commission and its guidelines recommending his client receive 60 years behind bars, rather than a “sufficient” sentence which is “no greater than necessary”. .”
“If, as here, the non-binding guidelines lead to an absurd result, the Court should disregard those guidelines, take into account the expectations of the parties when negotiating the contract they signed, and apply the factors 18 USC 3553 to craft a sentence ‘sufficient, but not more than necessary,’ to comply with the four purposes of sentencing set forth in section 3553(a)(2),” Whalen argued, also asserting that Couch was “a 37-year-old man with serious charges but a very limited criminal history.”
The court did not ignore the guidelines and clearly disagreed with the characterization of Couch’s criminal history as “very limited”.
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“The defendant has significant prior experience with the criminal justice system, including six (6) prior adult criminal convictions. He is no novice,” Judge Crytzer wrote in mid-March, listing six reasons she denied Couch’s motion to withdraw his plea. “Finally, the United States need not demonstrate prejudice resulting from the potential withdrawal of a guilty plea unless the defendant first establishes a just and equitable reason for allowing the withdrawal.”
“The defendant has not fulfilled his burden,” added the judge.
The Department of Justice pointed out that Couch had “thousands” of child pornography photos and videos of “unidentified” children on his phone, as well as videos of him sexually abusing a young girl in his home.
“According to the plea agreement filed, in December 2019, after receiving a report that Couch was distributing child pornography, a search warrant was made at Couch’s home. Couch’s cell phone was seized and subjected to forensic examination. Several child pornography videos produced by Couch were on the cellphone, in which he engaged in sexually explicit acts with a four-and-a-half-year-old girl who visited Couch’s home,” the DOJ said in a press release. . . “There were also thousands of other images and videos of unidentified child pornography on the cellphone.”
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