Some Federal Judges Say Child Porn Penalties Too Harsh

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Are people who download and view child pornography but aren’t molesters as much of a threat to society as rapists or murderers? The Wall Street Journal says that question is being raised by federal judges in response to tough sentences meted out to consumers of child pornography. The average federal prison term for possessing, receiving or sharing child porn jumped to roughly seven years in fiscal 2006 from about three years in 1994. In federal cases, the mandatory minimum for downloading images is five years in prison without parole.

Sentencing guidelines for such crimes “do not appear to be based on any sort of [science] and the court has been unable to locate any particular rationale for them beyond the general revulsion that is associated with child exploitation-related offenses,” federal judge Robert Pratt of Des Moines saiid this year. He gave a seven-year sentence to one defendant, even though the advisory guidelines called for a minimum of 18 years. In possession cases with no evidence defendants sought to abuse minors, several judges are giving much lower sentences than the guidelines intend, which they are allowed to do if they believe the recommended punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Jack Weinstein, a federal judge in Brooklyn, threw out a conviction, saying that he had infringed on the defendant’s constitutional rights by not informing the jury of the “harsh” five-year mandatory minimum term for receiving child pornography. In fiscal 2008, U.S. attorneys brought 2,211 computer-based child exploitation cases, the vast majority against child pornography viewers, who mostly pleaded guilty. That was more than double the number five years earlier.

Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122471925786760689.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

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