Justices Struggle With Restitution for Child Porn Victims

, The National Law Journal

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Three lawyers offered the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday three "stark choices" about how to pay restitution to child pornography victims, but none seemed to satisfy all of the justices.

The three choices, several justices noted, would result in victims receiving nothing, everything or something in between the two.

During arguments in Paroline v. United States, 12-8561, the high court struggled with how to give effect to Congress' mandate in the Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children Act that these victims receive the "full amount" of their losses.

See Oral Argument Transcript and Briefs.

The justices had agreed to decide what causal relationship, if any, between a criminal defendant's act and a child pornography victim's harm must the government or the victim prove for the victim to get restitution.

The case stems from the conviction of Doyle Paroline for possession of child pornography. The 300 images found on his computer included two of the child, "Amy," who, when she was 8 years old, was raped by her uncle. The uncle took photographs of his crimes and posted them on the Internet. The images are part of the most widely distributed child pornography, a series known as "Misty."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Paroline was liable for all of Amy's harm and losses, an estimated $3.4 million.

Lawyers for Paroline, the federal government and Amy tried to persuade the justices that each had the best approach as Amy, now in her mid-20s, watched from the audience.

The problem confronting the court is the section of the law defining the "full amount of the victim's losses." The law lists items such as medical services, physical and occupational therapy, lost income and attorney's fees. Last on the list is "any other losses suffered by the victim as a proximate result of the offense."

Paroline's counsel, Stanley Schneider of Houston's Schneider & McKinney, argued that the law's plain text requires the government to prove that all of the victim's harms or losses are the direct, or proximate, result of Paroline's offense.

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