In criminal law, defendants are sometimes required to pay restitution to the victims of a crime. In a recent case, the Supreme Court held that a defendant does not have to pay the entire amount of a multimillion-dollar restitution award to victim of child pornography. According to reports, the abuse involved the dissemination of certain images of the victim on the Internet. Now the Supreme Court is working to resolve how federal judges determine restitution payments in cases where illicit images have been viewed by potentially thousands of defendants.
Individuals who are being investigated for child pornography crimes should consult with an experienced advocate as soon as possible. The penalties for these crimes can be severe, including jail time, lifetime registry as a sex offender, as well as overwhelming and burdensome restitution payments. OurBirmingham defense attorneys are prepared to handle even the most complicated cases. We will pursue an immediate and intensive investigation and challenge the evidence presented against you by the prosecution. On your behalf, we will work to mitigate charges and penalties with strategic advocacy and representation. Our firm is committed to staying abreast of state and federal legal developments that may impact the rights of our clients.
In this case, the court had to weigh three potential outcomes: require each defendant to pay the total amount of restitution, declare that determining restitution was impossible, or allow judges to use discretion when ordering payment based on criminal conduct as the proximate cause of a victim’s injuries. The Supreme Court decided to pursue the third option, finding that federal law does not require each defendant to pay the full amount of restitution. Alternatively, the ruling stated that a person convicted of downloading and possession of porn must only pay restitution in proportion to their contribution to the victim’s injuries.
Federal statutes permit judges to force defendants to pay restitution based on an assessment of potential harm caused by each offender. The judges have acknowledged that the system is not precise and that it must be based on discretion. The court ruled on a case out of Texas involving a defendant who pleaded guilty to child pornography possession. The defendant was sentenced to 2 years in prison, 10 years of supervised released, and was required to pay one of the victims $3.4 million. The victim was sexually abused when she was 8 or 9 and raped by her uncle.
The defendant argued that he should not be liable for the victims’ restitution. Unlike her uncle who committed the sex crimes and the pornography distribution, the defendant only possessed three of the photographs. According to reports, as many as 70,000 individuals may have downloaded and viewed the photos but most won’t be identified or charged. Judges have assigned restitution for possessing these photos in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $530,000. Individuals in possession of child pornography should be aware that a conviction could result in restitution payments to victims in addition to other penalties.