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“Sovereign Citizen” Convicted of Child Pornography Crimes

GALVESTON, Texas – A 56-year-old resident of Galveston has been found guilty of receipt and possession of child pornography, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks Jr. found John David Knowlton guilty following a two-day bench trial that concluded today.

During trial, the court heard testimony from multiple law enforcement officers and a Comcast custodian of records.

In February 2016, law enforcement conducted an online session using a publicly available peer-to-peer file-sharing network and located an IP address whose share folder contained images of child pornography.  The IP address was associated with Knowlton’s residence. 

When law enforcement searched his home, they discovered more than a dozen electronic devices belonging to him that contained child pornography. Forensic analysis found that 18 electronic devices contained thousands of images and hundreds of videos of child pornography. 

Knowlton had opted to represent himself at the trial with the court-appointed shadow defense counsel. Knowlton, identifying as a sovereign citizen, argued that the federal judicial system had no jurisdiction over him. The court was not persuaded by his arguments and found him guilty as charged.

Judge Hanks set sentencing for Aug. 28, 2019. At that time, Knowlton faces a minimum of five and up to 20 years for the receipt of child pornography and up to 10 years imprisonment for the possession charge.

Previously released on bond, Knowlton was taken into custody after the guilty verdict where he will remain pending sentencing.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Pearland Police Department and Galveston Police Department’s – Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force conducted the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zahra Jivani Fenelon and Kimberly Leo prosecuted the case, which was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit For more information about internet safety education, please visit and click on the tab “resources.”

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