US Supreme Court Struggles with Child Pornography Restitution
Justices at the US Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the difficult question of whether a person convicted of downloading and possessing two computer images of child pornography can be forced to pay $3.4 million in restitution to the child-victim depicted in the two illicit images.
The justices are examining how judges are to award restitution payments to victims identified in confiscated images of child pornography. The restitution statute passed by Congress requires judges to order defendants to pay the full amount of the victim’s losses without regard to the proportion of harm they caused.
The case involves a Texas man, Doyle Randall Paroline, who pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and was later presented with a restitution demand from a single child-victim for $3.4 million. Mr. Paroline was sentenced to two years in prison and 10 years of supervised release. Investigators examined Mr. Paroline’s computer and found 300 images of children engaged in various sexual acts. Two of the 300 photos involved a young girl referred to in court documents by the pseudonym “Amy.” Based on the two photos, Amy’s lawyer submitted a demand for full restitution of $3.4 million.
At issue is whether a person who is convicted of possessing child pornography (rather than producing it or distributing it) can be held responsible for the total amount of restitution sought by the child-victim identified in the illicit images even though the person did not cause all, or even most, of the victim’s injuries. That interpretation of the statute would ensure that child-victims receive restitution payments quickly and efficiently. But forcing someone to pay the full amount for a crime primarily committed by someone else raises basic issues of due process and fairness. The Justices are grappling with the notion that statute is designed for restitution and not fines. A final decision by the Court is expected by June.
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