FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Josh Duggar’s sentencing hearing in the Western District of Arkansas Federal Courthouse in Fayetteville resumed at approximately 12:17 p.m. after a recess of less than an hour.
Before the break, Judge Timothy L. Brooks jokingly acknowledged that it takes his court reporter about half an hour to recover after the type of morning session that transpired, during which he addressed multiple defense objections to a presentencing report submitted to the court.
He began the afternoon by addressing Duggar directly, telling him that he would “turn my focus back to you now.” With all objections handled in one way or another, the judge addressed the “two-step framework” in federal sentencing.
First, a sentencing guideline range is calculated by the court, incorporating the prosecution’s requests for enhancements and the defense’s motions for downward variance. The judge noted that the final calculated guideline the court arrives at is “one among many factors” at sentencing. He added that the guidelines are also advisory, not binding.
Step two of the process requires the court to consider “several other sentencing factors,” including the specific defendant and the case itself.
Sentencing “should not be a one-size-fits-all approach,” Judge Brooks explained, noting that he would ultimately arrive at an “individualized, custom-tailored” sentence.
He then explained that for the guideline calculations, there are two components: the offense level, and the defendant’s criminal history. The judge also categorized this trial as a “non-hands-on case,” a term that he would repeat throughout the afternoon to differentiate it from cases involving actual physical contact with minors.
Duggar’s offense carries a “base offense level,” and the prosecution requested enhancements for “special offense characteristics” that warranted more severe sentencing. The judge went on to examine five requests for enhancements in-depth:
- A two-level enhancement for downloading illegal material involving prepubescent minors.
- A four-level enhancement for downloading illegal, “sadistic and masochistic” material.
- A five-level enhancement for Duggar’s “pattern of activity.”
- A two-level enhancement because the offense involved a computer.
- A four-level enhancement for the total number of illegal images downloaded.
The judge noted that a downward variance for a defendant’s accepting responsibility for his offenses does not apply in this case, because Duggar’s defense has maintained his innocence.
The second part of the process simply applies a level for the defendant’s prior criminal history. In this case, Duggar qualifies as a category one, receiving zero additional points, because he has no prior criminal convictions.
Adding all of the enhancements to the level of the convicted offense resulted in the level of the crime rising from 22 to 39. The 39 score intersects with the level 1 score for having no priors on a grid that the judge consulted, resulting in a guideline range of 262-327 months. By statute, the maximum allowable in this instance for Duggar’s one charge is 240 months, or 20 years.
The judge also outlined a range of potential fines, as well as some mandatory fees and assessments, and added that Duggar’s term of supervised release after he serves his sentence could range from five years to life.
The judge was meticulous and thorough in explaining all of his responsibilities, making note of his “obligation to look at the totality of facts and circumstances” of Duggar’s offense. He added that this includes incorporating Duggar’s personal history while also being sure to avoid “any unwarranted differences in sentencing” compared to similar defendants.
He then stated his need to do something that the defense has requested multiple times in their pre-sentencing filings: arrive at a sentence that is “sufficient but not greater than necessary” in order to achieve the “purposes and goals” of sentencing.
He continued by noting that the sentence should be “a reflection of several things,” including that it “promotes respect for the law” and “fits the crime.” He added that it should also impart a “deterrent effect,” both specifically to Duggar as well as to the public in general. A need to protect the public was another factor.
The judge also spoke to Duggar and voiced “concerns you might re-offend in the future.”
He then said that he was going to “get some additional input” from the attorneys on both sides, adding with a laugh that “I have a pretty good idea of what their positions are.” Both sides filed lengthy sentencing memorandums, as well as detailed responses to each other’s filings in the days before today’s hearing.
“I’m more than happy to listen to anything you might want to say,” he told them.
Prosecuting attorney Dustin Roberts reiterated the government’s recommendation of issuing the maximum sentence of 20 years. He noted the guidelines that would normally indicate an even harsher sentence, and cited “a need to protect the public, specifically children.” He added that Duggar is likely to re-offend.
Roberts also took issue with Duggar and the defense “downplaying the nature of his offense.”
Some of the details that Roberts and the judge discussed may be disturbing to some readers.
“Child pornography represents an added injury to those who can least sustain another injury,” he said, adding that the victims of childhood sexual abuse live with it “every day for their entire life.” He also declared that Duggar “went through great efforts” to obtain illegal Child Sexual Assault Material, calling the defendant’s behavior “goal-oriented” with a “singular purpose” to circumvent the internet accountability software that had been installed on his desktop computer.
The prosecutor continued by describing some of the illegal material Duggar downloaded in explicit detail, calling it “so horrendous” and “among the worst child pornography images in existence.” The defendant watched the prosecutor intently as the attorney described one specifically graphic series of images that Roberts categorized as “extreme.”
Still, the government found Duggar’s pattern of activity the “most concerning part” of his behavior. In a court filing, the defense characterized trial testimony by longtime Duggar family friend Bobye Holt as hearsay, but Roberts said she should be considered “the most accurate historian” of the events involving the defendant’s activity as a teenager.
The prosecutor then made a clear point that, at the time of the alleged molestation acts, Duggar was a teenager, and “not a child.” He added that the unidentified victims, referred to only as Jane Does 1-4, were children, noting that one was only five years old. Roberts went on to note that if Duggar’s teenage behavior had been adjudicated he would have faced rape and multiple sexual assault charges.
The government continued by noting that Duggar has not received “any treatment” to help address his behavior, voiced concern about his ongoing “attraction to minors,” and cited his unwillingness to address any of the underlying causes for his behavior. Roberts paused for a moment before making another simple statement.
“Your honor, he has a large number of children,” he said, then added that Duggar’s installation of the partition on his work computer allowed him to “keep doing what he wanted to do.” He concluded by noting that the 20-year sentence would be “consistent with every recommendation we have ever given.”
“This is some sick stuff,” said Judge Brooks after the graphic recollection of the evidence, but added that there was “then nothing for six months” after the three-day period when Duggar downloaded the material at his car lot. He then brought up several cases that he saw as similar and had Roberts compare and contrast them. One other defendant sentenced to 15 years in prison was “not as sophisticated” as Duggar in avoiding detection, while a man that received a sentence just over ten years had a case with no pattern of prior activity, with Roberts noting, “That carries a lot of weight.”
“There has to be some awareness of a problem,” Roberts told the judge. “That’s the most worrisome thing for the government.”
Defense attorney Justin Gelfand spoke next, repeating a request for the five year minimum sentence and saying that his support of that would focus on a simple question about his client.
“Who is this person?” he asked rhetorically.
He noted that the defendant is “atypical in many ways” because he was “thrust into the public spotlight,” then spoke at great length about Duggar’s character, including a history of hard work and generosity.
“It’s only fair to consider the allegations,” he said, adding that it is also important to “place what actually happened here into its proper context.”
Five years in prison plus a term of supervised release is “not a slap on the wrist,” he added. “What’s really accomplished by a longer sentence?”
“Nothing is accomplished,” he stated, answering his own question. He also claimed that Duggar would never appear in this or any other courtroom ever again, and that the defense would not object to Duggar receiving “counseling and things along those lines.”
“We have a track record,” he added, referring to Duggar’s “perfect” behavior while out on bond before the trial. Next, he noted that the defense’s pre-sentencing filings “detailed some of the fundamental problems” they have with the sentencing guidelines.
Gelfand cited specific similar cases and noted high percentages of them included lesser sentencing terms than the government requested, adding that the total number of images Duggar downloaded was “so much lower” than average. He also took issue with the 5-level enhancement for a pattern of behavior considering the duration of time that has passed between Duggar’s teenage behavior and his more recent offense.
He continued by stating that adding enhancements for a “computer-based crime” leads to guidelines “unfairly resulting” in longer sentences. He also said that 20 years would be “unprecedented by law” compared to similar cases. He listed several such cases that resulted in a five-year sentence. He added that “the sentence we’re asking for is not inconsistent” with the requirement the law requires.
Next, he spoke about “the elephant in the room,” Duggar’s celebrity status, stating that this case drew attention because of “his name, not his offenses.” He then asked for the defendant to be treated “like similarly-situated defendants,” that received sentences “substantially lower” than 20 years.
Gelfand next echoed a statement made in his sentencing memorandum, the defense’s desire to see justice tempered with mercy, but added that he hoped for the court to “add a dose of compassion.”
“Josh Duggar is a good person who has so much more to offer,” he stated before asking the judge to “give him that chance.” Gelfand then submitted a recommendation of three possible prisons where Duggar could be sent.
Duggar was afforded an opportunity to speak but chose not to. The judge noted that it is common for the defendant to do that in cases where an appeal is expected. Duggar thanked the court for the chance to do so but remained silent aside from occasionally answering short questions from the judge and acknowledging that he understood the proceedings as they happened.
Judge Brooks once again addressed the two-step framework of sentencing, noting that while the guideline suggested a longer sentence than 20 years, he could not impose more than that.
“All felonies are serious,” he said, noting that there is a “very broad spectrum of those offenses.” He then added that he agrees with the defense when it comes to “non-hands-on sentencing history.” He explained that since 2019, over 60% of federal judges in similar cases have also concurred, and noted that less than one-third of defendants in those received a sentence within the actual guideline range.
Continuing, he explained that the three points of “content, community, and conduct” each provide a window into circumstances seen as “aggravating” or “mitigating” to the court.
The ruling on content was two-fold, as the total number of images downloaded was “significantly below” those of typical offenders, while the content itself was “some of the worst that this court has ever encountered.” He referred to one particularly repellant image submitted at trial as one he “can’t get out of his head.” He described a different video as “horrific” and “sick,” and thus applied content as an aggravating circumstance.
He then detailed the age ranges typically seen in this type of offense, noting that some contained in Duggar’s downloads were so young that they qualified as “the sickest of the sick,” making that “more aggravating than usual.” Duggar’s lack of a more quantitative collecting behavior was viewed as mitigating, while his use of sophisticated technology and the degree to which he went to avoid detection were aggravating.
Such conflicts of aggravating and mitigating circumstances continued through the judge’s exploration of the community and conduct aspects. There was no evidence that Duggar had joined any online CSAM communities or paid for any material, but his use of peer-to-peer sharing software on the dark web was “more aggravating than normal.”
Regarding prior conduct, the judge observed that “the vast majority, well over 90%” of defendants in similar cases have no prior history.
“You have a history of sexual abuse,” he told Duggar directly. He then noted that one of Duggar’s alleged molestation victims was five years old and that Duggar remains “locked into the very same age group as those Jane Does.”
“The sexual interest is the same,” he said. “On the other hand, it has been a long time” since Duggar’s hands-on contact. This led Judge Brooks to query whether the molestation behavior had stopped, or if the defendant had simply become more secretive about concealing it. The judge made a clear point of noting that Duggar had searched for “the worst of the worst” involving children in the same age range.
As for Duggar’s history as a generous man that gave away free cars and donated money to needy widows, the judge said that this person was “someone that we can’t recognize” in the presentence report while acknowledging his good attributes.
He continued by reciting a quote attributed to college basketball Hall of Fame coach John Wooden.
The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching. You know, Covenant Eyes was watching. And you went around Covenant Eyes.Judge Timothy L. Brooks, quoting John Wooden regarding Duggar’s evasion of accountability software
The judge noted that he did take the letters written in support of Duggar into account, and “that family support is mitigating because they will help you get through this.” He also noted that Duggar will still be “a relatively young man” after his sentence.
Conversely, he called the statement from a victim’s mother “accurate” and “chilling.”
“The court does have concerns about recidivation,” he added. He then cited statistics regarding sentencing in cases similar to this one.
“And that brings us to your sentence,” he finally announced at 2:29 p.m.
“I’m tasked to determine, what is that number?” he stated, before announcing that Duggar was sentenced to a prison sentence of 151 months or just over 12 and a half years. That will be followed by a supervised release term of 20 years, which included a multitude of conditions Duggar must follow.
Immediately after the sentencing, Gelfand announced that the defense intends to appeal within the next 14 days. Duggar left the courtroom to be immediately remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.