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Federal judges draw attention to sentencing in child porn case

In a federal case that will likely generate interest in legal circles across the country, two appellate judges are questioning how the judiciary typically treats first-time offenders convicted of downloading pornographic images of children.

It merits pointing out at the outset of case discussion that the judges -- part of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel (North Carolina is in the 4th Circuit) -- were not dissenting from the court’s majority ruling upholding a 10-year prison sentence handed down to a defendant. The justices agreed with that ruling, writing concurring opinions instead that questioned the efficacy of federal sentencing guidelines and outcomes in dealing with the problem of child pornography.

The defendant was convicted on two counts of possession of child pornography relating to sexually explicit videos involving minors that investigators found on his computers. Although there was no evidence submitted that the defendant had actually downloaded the videos, reference to them at trial was deemed admissible by the appellate tribunal.

What the two concurring judges focused primarily on was whether handing down lengthy prison terms to first-time offenders is an effective deterrent to child pornography and an appropriate default penalty for convicted defendants.

“Surely sentences of five to twenty years for a first offense of viewing child pornography are not the solution,” wrote one of the justices. He voiced a concern “about the practical impact of the child pornography laws,” querying whether more emphasis needs to be placed on psychiatric treatment in lieu of incarceration for many offenders.

The concurring opinions solicit more study of state and federal policies on child pornography and better advertising of the consequences for offenders, with one of the judges noting that an overriding emphasis on long lock-up periods for convicted defendants will not eradicate the problem.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Child-porn sentencing questioned by judges,” Dave Tartre, Sept. 5, 2014

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