Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today gave the following statement on the House floor in support of the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017 (H.R. 1761).

Chairman Goodlatte: Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Today, Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 1761, the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017, and urge my colleagues to do the same.  I’d like to note that May is National Missing Children’s Month and today marks National Missing Children’s Day. It is an honor to be on the floor here today, as we continue our mission to protect these innocent victims.

We have made great strides toward ending child exploitation. However, gaps still exist in our laws that are contrary to Congress’s goal of protecting children and criminalizing the production of images of child sexual abuse.

H.R. 1761 takes necessary steps to close an unfortunate loophole created by a Fourth Circuit decision in United States v. Palomino-Coronado – a case which allowed a defendant to walk free from federal conviction despite photographic evidence he had engaged in the sexual abuse of a seven-year-old child.

On May 3, 2012, Prince George’s County police officers responded to a home in Laurel, Maryland based on a report of a missing seven-year-old child, known as “B.H.” Officers found the child at the fence that separated her house and her neighbor’s house.  Upon investigation, it was uncovered that the neighbor, Anthony Palomino-Coronado, a nineteen-year-old male, had sexually molested the child.

At trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of knowingly employing, using, persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing a minor in sexually explicit conduct, for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of that conduct – in other words, for the production of child pornography. The defendant appealed his conviction, alleging insufficient evidence.

Incredibly, the Fourth Circuit vacated the defendant’s conviction, finding there was insufficient evidence the defendant’s sexual abuse of the seven-year-old girl was “for the purpose of” creating an image of such conduct. The Court found that, though the defendant engaged in sexual conduct with a child, “the fact that only one image was produced militates against finding that his intent in doing so was to take a picture.”

Essentially, the court decided that the defendant had engaged in sexual conduct with a seven-year-old AND taken a picture, but had not engaged in sexual conduct with a seven-year-old TO take a picture.  To me, this is a preposterous, offensive result.

Under the Fourth Circuit’s reasoning in Palomino, a defendant could admit to sexually abusing a child, and memorializing the conduct, but could argue he should nonetheless escape federal conviction because he lacked the requisite “purpose,” or specific intent, prior to initiating the sexual abuse. Indeed, defense attorneys have begun to raise these “Palomino defenses” in other courts.

In response to Palomino, H.R. 1761 establishes additional bases of liability to the crime of production of child pornography. Specifically, the bill clarifies existing law by prohibiting the knowing production of, or knowingly causing the production of, a visual depiction of a real minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Additionally, H.R. 1761 amends current law to prohibit the knowing transmission of, or knowingly causing the transmission of, a live visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct while also criminalizing the knowing creation of the visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

This language will serve to fix this judicially-created loophole and ensure our court system will not have to spend time evaluating this meritless defense and will make certain predators such as this will not be able to escape federal consequences.

Mr. Speaker, with this bill, Congress’s intent is clear.  We must continue to protect our children, the most vulnerable and innocent members of society. I commend Mr. Johnson for introducing this important legislation and I urge my colleagues to support it.

I reserve the balance of my time.

For more on the House Judiciary Committee’s work to protect children, click here.