A local man serving a lengthy sentence for possessing child pornography appears to be in line for less prison time.Andy Porter can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.
In a decision issued Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals in Spokane vacated five of the six charges Michael N. Belford was convicted of and ordered his case sent back for resentencing on the final charge.
Belford is currently serving a 17-year sentence. But under state law, the maximum term for a single count of possession of child pornography is 10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.
After a two-day trial in January 2008, a jury found Belford guilty of six counts of possessing child pornography on computer hard drives at his residence. He was later sentenced by Superior Court Judge Donald Schacht, who imposed a prison term that was twice as long as the top end of the normal standard-range sentence called for under sentencing guidelines.
The charges that led to Belford's conviction were based on six different images of six different minor children found in his possession. But a recent state Supreme Court decision has ruled that a person could only be found guilty of one count per possession, regardless of the number of images or the number of children in the images.
In the opinion written by appeals court Judge Teresa C. Kulik, the Supreme Court ruling means Belford "should have been convicted of only one count of possession of child pornography. To convict him of any more than one count would violate the double jeopardy rule" which prohibits a person from being tried twice for the same offense.
When he sentenced Belford in 2008, Schacht agreed with the prosecution that the usual term wasn't enough punishment because Belford had been convicted of 16 child pornography charges in three separate cases. Belford, who was 19 at the time, was convicted twice of possessing child pornography when he was juvenile.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden said today Belford's resentencing would probably be held later this month. Given Belford's past criminal history, the standard sentencing range for a single count of possession of child pornography is 77-102 months, but Golden said he intends to ask for the maximum sentence of 10 years.