In 1987, Richard Schmidt was first convicted of sexually abusing a child and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. He was released in 2000 on good behavior, settled in Baltimore, and by 2003 was under investigation for taking pornographic photos of two boys in the area. He fled to the Philippines, where he was arrested for having sex with underage boys.
After Schmidt’s arrest, he was deported to and prosecuted in the United States, where Congress had recently passed a law that gave more power to prosecutors trying to track down U.S. citizens involved in the sexual exploitation of children in foreign countries. He was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. The Washington Post reports that Schmidt, who is 74, is now appealing the conviction.
Last year a federal judge in Baltimore said that while the “record establishes that Schmidt is a sexual predator,” he also agreed with Schmidt’s argument: Schmidt did not break U.S. law because the crimes he pleaded guilty to did not happen in the first country he visited after leaving U.S. soil but in the second.
For prosecutors to have authority on foreign soil, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said, there must be a direct connection between the United States and the foreign country.
Prosecutors challenged the ruling, and there’s a hearing this week at the U.S. Court of Appeals which will decided if the 2005 conviction was invalid because it focused on the wrong part of Schmidt’s trip. He had molested young boys in Cambodia, traveling there from the Philippines, where he had a house and driver’s license. Congress updated the law to be more specifically targeted towards Americans living abroad rather than “traveling” in 2013.
The chief of appeals for the U.S. attorney’s office, Sujit Raman, says his mailing address at the time was irrelevant because “Congress intended to criminalize all illicit sexual conduct by U.S. citizens abroad, regardless of when they traveled.” Schmidt was actually due for release this coming January, regardless of the outcome of the trial, but if the Baltimore judge’s ruling stands on appeal, prosecutors believe that Schmidt will not be supervised nor forced to register as a sex offender.
The Bureau of Prisons had interviewed Schmidt in anticipation of his freedom and deemed him a “sexually dangerous person,” which means the government could ask for him to be civilly committed after his release. However this assessment came through after the Baltimore judges ruling, and thus may be invalid. The only thing that anyone seems to know for sure is that Schmidt is definitely a child molester.