Mandan man faces up to 40 years in child pornography case

A judge has ruled a Mandan man’s past conviction for a sexual-abuse related offense can be used to augment his sentence for a child-pornography offense.

Gordon Sonnenberg, 65, now faces between 15 and 40 years in prison for receipt of material involving the sexual exploitation of minors. He pleaded guilty to the offense on Oct. 18.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland last week denied a motion from Sonnenberg’s attorney, Chad McCabe, which asked that Sonnenberg’s prior conviction not be used to determine sentencing. Without the enhanced sentencing, Sonnenberg would have faced five to 20 years in prison.

Sonnenberg was convicted of a sexual offense in Iowa in 1968. According to court documents from Story County, Iowa, Sonnenberg was charged on April 29, 1968, with two counts of lascivious acts with children, both of which alleged that he “did commit a lewd, or lascivious act in the presence, or upon or with the body or any part or member thereof, of a child under the age of 16 years” on April 27, 1968.

According to police reports from that incident contained in court record on Sonnenberg’s federal charges, Sonnenberg was charged for having sexual contact with two girls.

Sonnenberg pleaded guilty to one of the charges, and the other was dropped at the request of the prosecuting attorney. According to court documents, the judge sentenced him to “a period not exceeding three years” in prison, with credit for 54 days served.

McCabe argued the old conviction should not be considered since the Iowa state law under which Sonnenberg was convicted in 1968 did not necessarily mean Sonnenberg committed sexual acts on children. He also argues that Hovland should not be able to consider factual information surrounding that case, since such information as police reports would not have been in court record.

Prosecutors, however, believed the prior conviction should be considered because the previous charge specifies that the incident involved children. They also believe the prior conviction is relevant based on a recent appeals court decision that said judges can consider facts surrounding prior convictions.

Hovland sided with the prosecutors, saying a prior conviction only has to relate to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse or abusive sexual contact involving a minor or a ward.

“The Court finds that ‘sexual abuse’ does not require a ‘sexual act’ involving physical contact,” Hovland wrote in his denial of the motion.

Hovland concluded that even the “least egregious conduct” under the Iowa law, which would involve committing a lewd or lascivious act in the presence of children, would constitute sexual abuse “or at a minimum, is related to sexual abuse.” He wrote that he did not have to take into account the circumstances of the past crime to come to his conclusion.

“We were really excited about that,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter, who is prosecuting the case, said about Hovland’s decision.

In a plea agreement approved by Hovland in October, McCabe reserved the right to appeal the case on the issue of whether the sentence should be enhanced because of the prior conviction. McCabe said Wednesday his client may appeal the case after Hovland sentences Sonnenberg in January. A sentence of more than 20 years would raise an appealable issue since the crime’s maximum sentence without the enhancement is 20 years, he said.

“A lot really depends on what the sentence actually comes out at,” he said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed.”

Published in: on December 6, 2007 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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