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U.S. Supreme Court

Should child-porn viewers be liable for full restitution to victims? SCOTUS considers case this week

Posted Jan 21, 2014 7:35 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell will seek restitution on behalf of a child-porn victim when the victims' rights advocate appears before the U.S. Supreme court Wednesday.

Cassell is arguing on behalf of a woman known as “Amy unknown,” the Salt Lake Tribune reports. She was 8 years old when she was sexually abused by her uncle, whose photos of the abuse are circulating on the Internet. She was awarded $3.4 million in damages in a 2008 case, and has so far collected about 40 percent of the total from those who have downloaded her images.

Cassell says joint and several liability should be imposed on each person who is convicted of downloading Amy’s images—in this case, Doyle Randall Paroline, who was accused of possessing 300 child-porn pictures on his computer, including two images of Amy.

Cassell’s appearance will be the first time a crime victim’s attorney has appeared before the court in a criminal case filed by the government, the Salt Lake Tribune says. He is working with another lawyer, James Marsh, who has sought restitution for child-porn victims in hundreds of cases.

"The challenge before the court is quite simply: How much is each defendant responsible for paying—the full amount or some other amount?" Marsh told the Salt Lake Tribune. "Our position is very consistent: the full amount."

The Justice Department argues that a porn downloader should pay "somewhere between all or nothing" but should not be responsible for the full amount of the victim’s aggregate losses.

Cassell hopes a court win will help other crime victims as well. "We do need to begin expanding restitution for all kinds of crimes and [finding] ways to make victims whole after they’ve been victimized," Cassell told the Salt Lake Tribune. "This is an important step along that way to make victims whole."

The case is Paroline v. United States. The SCOTUSblog case page is here. Former coverage by the New York Times is here.

Prior coverage:

ABA Journal: "Pricing Amy: Should Those Who Download Child Pornography Pay the Victims?"

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