SCOTUS Update: Restitution in Child Pornography Cases Must Be Limited

Posted by & filed under Case Law, Child Pornography Defense, Sex Crimes, U.S. Supreme Court.

 

Supreme Court ruling Outlines Limits on Child Pornography Restitution

Should those who download child porn pay the victims?

 

A while back, I wrote a couple blogs about the legal battle concerning restitution between people who have pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and the victims in the photographs. See here and here. Somehow I failed to report back on the Supreme Court ruling. Paroline vs. United States

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The high court’s decision essentially requires that courts find balance with regard to restitution for child pornography victims.

The justices, in a 5-4 vote, reversed a New Orleans federal appeals court ruling that said a Texas man convicted of viewing child porn could be held responsible for the victim’s entire financial burden — even though he possessed pictures of the child and was not involved in their production.
 
The case, Paroline v. United States, was argued before the Supreme Court early this year and the split decision was released in April. The question for the justices was whether restitution of $3.4 million (applied to Texas man Doyle Paroline) for “Amy,” who was sexually abused as a young girl to produce pornography, was proper under federal law.
 
The Court said that while victims should be compensated and defendants should be held accountable for the impact of their conduct on those victims, defendants should only be made financially responsible for the consequences and gravity of their own conduct — not the conduct of others.



 

More than 15 years ago, “Amy,” a pseudonym applied to the victim in court documents, was sexually abused and photographed by her uncle, who later distributed the images on the Web. Her uncle was convicted for the crime, but “Amy” has pursued legal action against certain defendants who viewed the pictures of her, including Paroline. It is estimated that thousands of individuals worldwide have possessed and viewed the images.

 

As for Paroline, he reportedly downloaded 280 pornographic pictures of children onto his computer, including two of “Amy.” He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 24 months in prison, but various courts in recent years were unable to agree on whether he and other viewers owed direct compensation to the victim for her suffering.

 

“Amy” contended that she needed about $3.4 million from Paroline to cover lost future income and counseling fees. Her lawyers also argued that Paroline could sue other defendants to collect some of that amount. “There is no way to separate him from the crowd of people committing these crimes; it’s all for one and one for all.”

 

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Prior to the April ruling, legal experts said that if the lower court decision were to be upheld, it would set a bold precedent for victims of child pornography. Instead of forcing a victim to pursue action against hundreds or thousands of individuals, a single person could be held responsible for the entire burden and placed in the position of having to locate others who viewed the images to help pay the debt.

Paroline’s attorneys contended that while “Amy” certainly was harmed, Paroline was not directly responsible. They argued that her uncle — and the fact that the pictures were publicly available on the Internet – were the culprits.

 

“None of the damages for which Amy is now seeking restitution flow from anyone telling her specifically about Mr. Paroline or telling her about his conduct,” Paroline’s counsel said in a court document.
A judge sentenced Amy’s uncle to 10 years in prison but only ordered him to pay about $6,300 for Amy’s counseling, Given that, Paroline’s lawyers argued that it would be extreme for Paroline to pay for Amy’s full losses, a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s protection from “excessive fines.”

The Court remanded the case to the lower courts to apply a new legal standard for determining a lower amount of restitution that is neither nominal nor too severe.

 

Child Pornography Defense New Orleans

Attorney Elizabeth Bagert Carpenter has defended many people accused of child pornography charges in Louisiana. If you have been arrested or contacted by law enforcement, contact her office for an appointment.

 

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