LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Monday upheld Josh Duggar's conviction for downloading child sexual abuse images, rejecting the former reality television star's argument that a judge should have suppressed statements he made to investigators during the search that found the images.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal by Duggar, whose large family was the focus of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting." Duggar was convicted in 2021 and is serving a 12 1/2-year prison sentence.
Federal authorities investigated Duggar after Little Rock police detective found child sexual abuse material was being shared by a computer traced to Duggar. Investigators testified that images depicting the sexual abuse of children, including toddlers, were downloaded in 2019 onto a computer at a car dealership Duggar owned.
Duggar's attorneys argued that statements he made to investigators during the search of the dealership should not have been allowed at trial since his attorney wasn't present. Prosecutors said Duggar asked the agents, "'What is this all about? Has somebody been downloading child pornography?" and that he declined to say whether he had looked at such material online, comments that were later used as evidence in the trial.
The appeals panel said that although Duggar was read his rights, the agents questioning him made it clear that he wasn't in custody and was free to leave. The panel also noted that he wasn't arrested at the end of his questioning.
"To the contrary, he ended the interview on his own and then left the dealership -- hardly an option available to someone in custody," the court ruled.
Justin Gelfand, an attorney for Duggar, said they disagreed with the court's reasoning and would evaluate all options.
The court also dismissed Duggar's argument that his attorneys should have been able to ask about the prior sex-offense conviction of a former employee of the dealership who had used the same computer. Duggar's attorneys did not ask the former employee to testify after the judge ruled they could not mention the prior conviction.
The panel ruled that the judge in the case struck the right balance by allowing the former employee to be questioned without bringing up the past conviction. The court also rejected Duggar's challenge to the qualifications of the analyst who testified that metadata on the former reality star's iPhone connected him to the crime.
TLC canceled "19 Kids and Counting" in 2015 following allegations that Duggar had molested four of his sisters and a babysitter years earlier. Authorities began investigating the abuse in 2006 after receiving a tip from a family friend but concluded that the statute of limitations on any possible charges had expired.
Duggar's parents said after the allegations resurfaced in 2015 that he had confessed to the fondling and apologized privately. Duggar then apologized publicly for unspecified behavior and resigned as a lobbyist for the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. Months later, he also publicly apologized for cheating on his wife and admitted to having a pornography addiction, for which he then sought treatment.