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Child porn victim restitution limits: Supreme Court will decide

Compensation for loss is one way our justice system helps the injured — whether physically or emotionally harmed — recover from a hurt inflicted by someone. A Texas man is presently incarcerated for downloading child pornography to his computer. The illegal images included two of a young girl who had been raped by her uncle. Fifteen years have passed since the assault. The uncle was convicted of the crime many years ago. The photos, however, remain in circulation.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether or not a person who has been convicted of the possession of child pornography crime must pay victims whose downloaded images were included restitution for a lifetime of suffering. According to court documents, $3.4 million is demanded to cover lost future wages and counseling fees.

Reportedly, the woman in this case is unable to work because she fears people might have seen the photos. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, her image has been evidence in over 3,000 child pornography cases, identifiable more than 35,000 times.

The plaintiff in the civil case contends that the Texas man who downloaded the images is responsible for the full amount. Further, he can attempt collection from others who saw or forwarded the pictures. Defense counsel argues that the victim was not harmed directly by the man, limiting his restitution liability. The federal government supports this, but contends he is responsible for a portion.

The 1994 Violence Against Women Act provides for restitution to victims in a broad sense. The justices will decide how to apply a law written before the Internet existed to our fast-paced world. A precedent for victims may be set with their decision. Even if they hold that one criminal is solely responsible for the restitution burden to child pornography victims, the law still protects him from financial ruin.

A guilty plea by the defendant led to his 24-month prison sentence. The disagreement among the lower courts concerning his responsibility for monetary damages to the woman requires careful analysis and aggressive defense arguments. When a person has paid for his crime with incarceration, it is appropriate that his future personal life be protected under the law, and applying the 1994 act today could create civil as well as criminal consequences for anyone convicted of such crimes.

Source: Dallas News, "Supreme Court takes up limits of child porn victim restitution in case involving East Texan" Ben Kamisar, Jan. 20, 2014

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