Federal appeals court upholds Josh Duggar’s child pornography conviction

The former reality television star’s attorneys sought a new trial, claiming unlawful evidence and incomplete defense

By: - August 7, 2023 4:38 pm

(Getty Images)

A panel of three federal appeals judges upheld the child pornography conviction of Josh Duggar, a member of the Arkansas family known for their presence in reality television and Republican politics.

Duggar, of Springdale, was convicted in December 2021 of possessing child pornography after a jury trial in Fayetteville. U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks sentenced Duggar to 12 ½ years in prison in May 2022, and Duggar’s lawyers appealed the conviction in February.

The panel from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Duggar’s attempt to “suppress incriminating statements and get a new trial,” they wrote in their Monday decision.

According to court documents, Duggar downloaded “hundreds of child pornography images” to a computer, and law enforcement tracked the computer’s IP address to a car dealership Duggar owned.

When approached with a search warrant, “without waiting for an explanation, Duggar blurted out, ‘[w]hat is this about? Has somebody been downloading child pornography?’” and then said he had installed file-sharing software on all his electronic devices, according to court documents.

These statements worked against Duggar during his trial, the panel’s decision states. Duggar’s attorneys claimed using these statements as evidence violated his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, but the 8th Circuit panel ruled that the statements were usable, especially since Duggar was not under arrest at that moment and did not behave as if he were.


Duggar and his attorneys claimed throughout the trial that he was falsely accused. They tried to call one of Duggar’s employees at the car dealership as a witness and implicate him, citing the employee’s history as a sex offender, according to court documents.

The court denied this request, and Duggar’s attorneys said in the appeal that this meant the defense was incomplete and the trial should be restarted.

The 8th Circuit panel disagreed.

“The right to present a complete defense, in other words, does not trump a district court’s discretion to keep out confusing or misleading evidence, even if it would be helpful to the defense,” the panel wrote.

Duggar, 35, is serving his federal prison sentence in Texas. His sentence includes 20 years of supervised release after his prison term ends, including no unsupervised contact with his seven children.

Duggar is the eldest of 19 children in a Northwest Arkansas family that was the focus of a reality television show, “19 Kids and Counting,” from 2008 to 2015. The Duggars’ devout practice of the Independent Baptist denomination of Christianity was a major focus of the show.

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“19 Kids and Counting” was canceled after Duggar publicly admitted that he sexually abused four of his sisters and another girl when he was a teenager. A reboot of the show, “Counting On,” ran from 2015 to 2021 and was canceled after Duggar’s arrest for child pornography possession.

A documentary miniseries, “Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets,” aired earlier this year and brought national attention back to the family, its religious views and Duggar’s sexually predatory behavior. The series explored the family’s connection to the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a fundamentalist Christian ministry group that some consider a cult. Its founder, Bill Gothard, was accused of sexual harassment and abuse by 34 women in 2014.

The patriarch of the Duggar family, Jim Bob Duggar, was a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003, representing part of Washington County. He made unsuccessful bids for the Republican nominations for U.S. Senate in 2002 and Arkansas Senate in 2006. He ran for another state Senate seat in 2021, announcing his run during his son’s trial. He lost in the GOP primary.

Jim Bob Duggar and his wife, Michelle, endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the 2008 Republican nomination for president, and Huckabee publicly supported the Duggar family in 2015 after Josh Duggar’s history of sexual abuse came to light.


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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.