United States v. Romero

189 F.3d 576 (1999)

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United States v. Romero

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
189 F.3d 576 (1999)

JC

Facts

Richard Romero (defendant) was 36 years old when he contacted a 12-year-old boy in an Internet chat room regarding unidentified flying objects and extraterrestrials. Romero first posed as a 15-year-old, then a 20-year-old, and began emailing and calling the minor child, referenced by the court as Erich. Almost a year after their first contact, Romero convinced Erich to run away with him. Romero came from Florida to Illinois to meet Erich, and they boarded a bus bound for Florida before authorities apprehended Romero and Erich at a bus station in Louisville, Kentucky. The federal government (plaintiff) charged Romero with four crimes arising from his conduct, including kidnapping. At trial, the government called Kenneth Lanning as an expert witness. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Lanning had studied the sexual exploitation of children for years and written extensively on child molestation. Lanning’s intended testimony was on the characteristics of preferential child molesters (as opposed to more opportunity-based molesters) and the techniques and methods the molesters frequently use to lure children. Lanning also intended to testify that, in his opinion, Romero was a child molester with a sexual interest in Erich. Romero objected to this line of questioning, and the government agreed to avoid that approach, instead focusing on the modus operandi of preferential child molesters. Seeing the possibility of invading the jury’s role as fact-finder, the judge told the defense to object to Lanning’s testimony on a question-by-question basis. Lanning testified at length about preferential child molesters and noted characteristics of these offenders—such as long-term contact to groom the potential victim, having a specific interest in particular types of children, identifying needs in children and seeking to fill those needs, and engaging in fantasy and need-driven behavior, frequently accompanied by collecting child pornography. Romero was convicted and appealed the conviction, arguing that Lanning’s testimony should have been excluded because Lanning indirectly gave opinions on the ultimate issue of Romero’s intent and because Lanning’s testimony violated Federal Rule of Evidence 404 regarding group-character evidence.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Evans, J.)

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