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Cell Phone Is a Computer for Sentencing Purposes

(CN) - A Motorola Motorazr V3 is more than just a phone - it is a computer whose use by sex offenders to contact victims gives the judicial system authority to impose longer prison sentences, the 8th Circuit ruled.

The 8th Circuit is the first federal appeals court to describe a cellular phone as a computer to enforce a harsher sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The distinction landed 41-year-old Neil Kramer in the slammer for 14 years instead of 11 years and 8 months for transporting a 15-year-old girl across state lines to have sex with her.

Kramer admitted to transporting the girl and to having sex with her. In the six months leading up to the offense, Kramer had used his cell phone, a Motorola Motorazr V3, to call the intended victim and send her text messages.

Finding that Kramer's cell phone met the description of a computer under federal sentencing guidelines, U.S District Judge Richard Dorr, who presides in Springfield, Mo., gave Kramer a harsher sentence after conviction for using his cell phone to get in contact with the girl.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual a computer is "an electronic, magnetic, optical, electrochemical, or other high speed data processing device performing logical, arithmetic, or storage functions, and includes any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such device."

The St. Louis-based federal appeals panel invoked Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to bolster its finding.

"Everything has a computer in it nowadays," the ruling quotes Wozniak as saying.

Kramer had argued on appeal that the computer must be able to access the Internet, but the three-judge panel disagreed.

"We acknowledge that a 'basic' cellular phone might not easily fit within the colloquial definition of 'computer,'" Circuit Court Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote for the court. "We are bound, however, not by the common understanding of that word, but by the specific - if broad - definition set forth."

The ruling also states that Kramer's cell phone and all "basic" cell phones clearly fit the sentencing manual's description of a computer.

"Indeed, modern cellular phones process data at comparable or faster rates than the desktop computers that existed when [the] statute was enacted," Wollman added in a footnote.

"Of course, the enhancement does not apply to every offender who happens to use a computer-controlled microwave or coffeemaker," Wollman wrote.

The court found that the application of the enhancement is limited to offenders who use a computer "to communicate directly with a minor or with a person who exercises custody, care, or supervisory control of the minor."

"This is a meaningful limitation on the applicability of the enhancement," Wollman wrote, "but it is no help to Kramer."

The 8th Circuit also threw out Kramer's argument that the government did not sufficiently demonstrate that his phone was a computer.

It is enough, according the ruling, that the user's manual for the phone and a printout from Motorola's website shows that the phone can run software and perform logical, arithmetic and other functions.

"Now it may be that neither the Sentencing Commission nor Congress anticipated that a cellular phone would be included in that definition," Wollman mused.

"As technology continues to develop, [the] statute ... may come to capture still additional devices that few industry experts, much less the Commission or Congress, could foresee. But to the extent that such a sweeping definition was unintended or is now inappropriate, it is a matter for the commission or Congress to correct."

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