Federal appellate court considering pornography restitution case

In May 2013 a Washington D.C. court of appeals reviewed a case dealing with the issue of how courts determine the appropriate amount of restitution people convicted of child pornography charges must pay. The decision that court reaches in this case could have a significant impact on those facing child pornography charges.

No evidence of harm

The issue before the appellate court stems from the case of a man who pled guilty to one count of possession of child pornography and one count of distribution of child pornography. The trial court judge sentenced the man to 10 years in prison and to pay one of the victims $5,000 in restitution. The man appealed the fine, and the trial court reduced the fine to zero because the government failed to provide evidence about how much of the victim's loss the man caused.

The government appealed the new fine, saying that the formula the court used in issuing the first fine was the most fair was to calculate restitution. The formula took the total amount of loss, divided by the number of people causing the loss and adjusted for several factors. The man argued that the formula was arbitrary, and that no fine was appropriate because of the state's failure to show evidence of the extent to which the man caused the victim harm.

Difficulties calculating damages

During oral arguments, the court expressed an interest in reaching a formula for restitution that lower courts could use uniformly going forward. However, they acknowledged the difficulties in doing so.

Courts across the U.S. have had trouble calculating restitution in child pornography cases. The number of defendants is often difficult to determine, particularly when images are on the internet. It is also hard to assess how much harm each person who views the image caused the victim in many cases. Critics also note that the formula that the government is advocating is more punitive to those who are convicted earlier in pornography ring cases because the number of known defendants in the matter is lower - meaning that the amount each person must pay is higher.

Talk to an attorney

Child pornography charges are very serious matters. Convictions for such charges carry long prison sentences and stiff fines, as the case before the Washington D.C. appellate court demonstrates. The federal government, as well as each of the state governments, devotes a lot of resources to investigating child pornography cases. Those facing child pornography charges should have someone on their side working just as hard to defend their rights. If you have been charged with a crime dealing with child pornography, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney without delay.