FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — After receiving a pair of extensions, Joshua Duggar’s defense team has responded to a prosecution brief stating that his appeal claims “uniformly lack merit” by alleging that the district court “violated Duggar’s right to present a complete defense” due to its rulings during his trial.

The defense filed the response in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis on Dec. 27. Duggar, 34, a former reality TV personality, was found unanimously guilty on a pair of child pornography charges in the Western District of Arkansas federal court in December 2021. 

In May, he was sentenced to 151 months (12 years and seven months) in federal prison. The defense has maintained his innocence and filed a notice of appeal on June 3.

On Nov. 22, the prosecution filed a response to the defense’s opening brief, stating that “Duggar’s claims uniformly lack merit, and the district court’s judgment should be affirmed in its entirety.” The defense was granted a pair of extensions to file a reply.

In the Dec. 27 defense filing, Duggar’s attorneys reiterated points that they have made during the appeal process:

  1. The district court violated Duggar’s right to present a complete defense.
  2. The district court erred in denying Duggar’s motion to suppress statements.
  3. The district court erred in permitting the government’s expert to testify concerning exif metadata and in precluding Duggar’s expert from opining on the unreliability of the data and the methodology.

The 30-plus page filing explained the defense’s position on each of those three key issues in depth.

When reading the Government’s brief, it is easy to lose sight of the core issues on appeal. Duggar was precluded from presenting compelling alternative perpetrator evidence because the district court applied a test the Supreme Court found unconstitutional.

Joshua Duggar reply brief of appellant, Dec. 27

The filing added that “the Government’s case was built on a house of cards related to time-and-place metadata — but the district court improperly permitted the Government’s expert to offer opinions concerning the metadata and prevented Duggar’s expert from accurately testifying about the unreliable methodology used by the Government’s expert.”

It also claimed that the prosecution “attempts to change the rules and rewrite history” due to the limitations the judge placed on potential testimony by Caleb Williams, a former employee of Duggar’s. No evidence was presented at trial indicating that Williams was present at any time that illegal child sexual assault material was downloaded on the office’s desktop computer.

An artist’s rendering of Judge Timothy L. Brooks

“If he says he wasn’t there, you can’t talk about what happened,” said Judge Timothy L. Brooks in a quote that the defense included in this filing. The defense continued by noting the government’s citations of related cases as “misplaced.”

The filing also stated that Duggar “established more than a minimal connection between Williams and his offenses” but that “the district court simply concluded the Government’s evidence was more convincing.”

As it did during the trial, the defense continued to maintain that Duggar’s computer could have been accessed remotely and added that Williams “regularly used the computer” as an employee.

The prosecution said that “the court’s ruling had no effect on the verdict,” in its Nov. 22 response to the defense’s opening brief. “As Duggar’s scapegoat could not possibly have committed these offenses.”

The district court’s ruling that Duggar would not be permitted to inquire further or impeach Williams’ credibility if Williams denied being on the lot or remotely accessing the computer constituted an arbitrary ruling in violation of Duggar’s rights as the evidence established a sufficient nexus between Williams and the offenses. Duggar’s evidence that Williams had the access, opportunity, knowledge, and motive to commit the crimes charged was more than sufficient.

Joshua Duggar reply brief of appellant, Dec. 27

The second main point related to a non-custodial interview that Duggar gave to investigators executing a search warrant at his car lot. The defense filing categorized this as an interrogation by a federal agent who “physically took his phone from his hand.”

Duggar — blindsided in a rural area, surrounded by armed agents wearing ballistic vests, and without access to a vehicle — attempted to call his attorney only to have his phone physically taken and was told his attorney would not be allowed on the scene.

Joshua Duggar reply brief of appellant, Dec. 27

The reply also took issue with the government’s contention that Duggar was not restrained during that interview by saying that “restraint is about more than being handcuffed.” It stated that the court “should conclude a reasonable person in Duggar’s position would have felt ‘deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.'”

The filing continued by specifically calling the seizure of Duggar’s phone a violation of his Miranda rights and noted that the Supreme Court has “repeatedly held” that once a suspect has asked to speak to counsel, he cannot be questioned regarding any offense unless an attorney is present.

“That interview occurred on the premises of Duggar’s car lot, with no restraints on Duggar’s movement, after Duggar had been repeatedly informed that he was not under arrest and was free to leave,” the prosecution’s brief stated. “Duggar’s attempt to contact counsel did not occur during or in proximity to custodial interrogation.”

The last point referred to prosecution expert witness James Fottrell, a Department of Justice forensic investigator, and his testimony about metadata obtained from photos introduced as evidence at trial. It said that the district court “abused its discretion by permitting Fottrell to
draw inferences from the metadata without providing necessary testimony about the creation of that metadata and without pretrial notice.”

An artist’s rendering of Department of Justice forensics expert witness James Fottrell

The defense added that Fottrell “was never qualified to offer this critical testimony in the first place” and that he “lacks any expertise concerning the technology used to create the coordinates.” It also said that the court erred by not allowing the defense’s own expert witness to offer rebuttal testimony on the subject.

“The government’s expert — who testified to having analyzed thousands of devices across numerous investigations — was qualified to opine on the extraction and interpretation of metadata,” the prosecution brief said. The filing added that the defense’s own expert admitted to “having never reviewed the metadata that the government presented, despite having ample opportunity to do so.”

The filing concluded by asking the federal appeals court to “vacate his conviction, suppress his statement, and remand for a new trial.” It was signed by defense attorneys Justin Gelfand and Travis Story.

Duggar is currently serving his federal prison sentence at FCI Seagoville outside of Dallas. Following that, he will have 20 additional years of supervised release with a host of special conditions attached.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis has given notice that it intends to listen to oral arguments in Duggar’s appeal on a date still to be determined.