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United States v. Mitteness

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 28, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Cynthia Ann Mitteness Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: January 12, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, MELLOY and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          MELLOY, Circuit Judge.

         Cynthia Ann Mitteness ("Mitteness") pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) and (e). She was sentenced to 324 months' imprisonment. Mitteness appeals her sentence, arguing (1) the district court[1] impermissibly applied a two-level enhancement for undue influence and a two-level enhancement for use of a computer and (2) the district court abused its discretion and imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence. We affirm.

         I. Background

         This case involves Mitteness's grooming of her nine-year-old daughter ("M.L.M.") to engage in illegal sex acts with Michael Lee Williams ("Williams"), a man whom Mitteness had known for fifteen years and knew was a convicted sex offender.

         Mitteness and Williams reconnected in September 2015 and began communicating through Facebook messages. In April or May 2016, Mitteness encouraged M.L.M. to talk to Williams online through Mitteness's Facebook account. Williams sent nude videos of himself to Mitteness's account. Mitteness watched the videos with M.L.M., described their contents to M.L.M. using child-friendly terminology, and instructed M.L.M. on how to engage with the material. Mitteness posed M.L.M., took nude and partially nude pictures of M.L.M. on her iPad Mini, and sent some of the photos to Williams.

         On June 10, Mitteness drove M.L.M. from their home in Minnesota to Iowa for the weekend. An hour after Mitteness and M.L.M. arrived at a hotel in Johnston, Iowa, Williams visited their room. At one point, Mitteness grabbed and placed M.L.M.'s hand on Williams's genitals. Later, Mitteness performed oral sex on Williams in front of M.L.M., encouraging M.L.M. to participate. M.L.M. ran crying to the bathroom.

         On June 12, Mitteness and M.L.M. drove to Williams's home in Runnells, Iowa. During the visit, Williams massaged M.L.M., on a bed, while they were both naked. Mitteness was also on the same bed. Williams later claimed his genitals touched various parts of M.L.M.'s body during the massage. Mitteness told M.L.M. if she shared what happened during the trip to Iowa, Mitteness would never talk to her again.

         A federal grand jury indicted Mitteness on one count of conspiracy to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) and (e), and one count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a). Mitteness pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge.

         The Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR"), prepared by the U.S. Probation Office, recommended a two-level parental-relationship enhancement under United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2G1.3(b)(1)(A). The PSR also recommended a two-level enhancement based on the presence of undue influence under U.S.S.G. § 2G1.3(b)(2)(B) and a two-level enhancement for the use of a computer under U.S.S.G. § 2G1.3(b)(3)(A).

         Mitteness objected to the undue-influence and use-of-a-computer enhancements at sentencing. The district court overruled the objections, adopted the PSR recommendations, and calculated Mitteness's ...


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