Texas Doc Can’t Withdraw Child Porn Plea

GALVESTON, Texas (CN) — A Texas pediatric oncologist caught getting child porn from an FBI “bait” website can’t scrap his plea deal, despite two court rulings suppressing evidence in other states from the same sting that nailed him, a federal judge ruled.
     Dr. Dennis Patrick Meehan Hughes, 50, resigned from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in June, after federal agents arrested him on three child porn charges.
     M.D. Anderson officials notified the families of Hughes’ 300 patients about his arrest, and said Hughes spent 80 percent of his office time doing research, the rest seeing patients, according to the Houston Chronicle.
     Hughes came onto FBI radar after it seized a child porn website and instead of shutting it down, connected it to a government server in Virginia, setting a trap with the help of a magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.
     The magistrate issued a warrant to use a “Network Investigative Technique,” to send a computer code to website visitors’ computers to reveal their IP and home addresses, according to U.S. District Judge George Hanks’ Aug. 30 order.
     “The government determined that a user named ‘Ahmed,’ from a computer at Hughes’s residence in Texas, had logged onto the website for 41 hours, made a post, and accessed child pornographic images,” the 9-page order states.
     Hughes pleaded guilty on March 22 to all three counts: receipt of child porn, possession of child porn and access with intent to view child porn.
     Then he got some news he believed could undo his conviction.
     State courts in Oklahoma and Massachusetts granted motions to suppress in cases that came out of the same FBI sting, finding the Virginia magistrate had exceeded his authority by authorizing the warrants.
     Hughes asked Judge Hanks in May to withdraw his guilty plea so he could file his own motion to suppress.
     Hanks dismissed the motion to withdraw, noting that Hughes acknowledges there is no case law supporting his argument in the U.S. Supreme Court or in the Fifth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Texas federal courts.
     “The main force of Hughes’ argument is that his plea was not ‘knowing and voluntary’ because he and his legal counsel could not have foreseen the fortuitous result obtained in the Massachusetts and Oklahoma cases,” Hanks wrote.
     Hanks pointed out that nothing stopped Hughes from filing a suppression motion before he pleaded guilty, and that Hughes and his attorney decided not to do so after reviewing other federal rulings that rejected similar claims.
     “The plain fact is that Hughes chose not to advance a legal argument that, at the time of his plea, had been statistically unsuccessful,” Hanks wrote.
     Hanks found the Fifth Circuit has let defendants withdraw their guilty pleas only when statutes governing their crimes were changed, not based on outside rulings, “(i)n other words, [when] such modifications have decriminalized a defendant’s alleged conduct.”
     Hanks was appointed by President Barack Obama and took his seat on the federal bench in April 2015. He is the first black judge to preside over Galveston Federal Court.
     Hughes is free on a $50,000 bond. He faces up to 40 years in prison at his Oct. 13 sentencing.

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