Supreme Court rules child porn convicts jointly liable to pay victims damages

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a man convicted of child pornography possession is not solely liable to pay the full damages to a victim for viewing a photo of her childhood rape.

The 5-4 decision sets aside the order of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans for Doyle R. Paroline to pay $3.4 million in restitution sought by a female plaintiff named “Amy.” The ruling on Paroline vs. United States also leaves to federal judges the setting of the amount of restitution that each child porn viewer should pay to a victim.

“It makes sense to spread the payment among a larger number of offenders in amounts more closely in proportion to their respective causal roles and their own circumstances,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority’s opinion.

Dissenting Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said the federal law, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, failed to make clear how judges should decide on the damages when many people had viewed the images. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented separately saying that each viewer of child pornography images could be held liable for the full amount of the victims’ losses.

Amy had sought $3.4 million in damages from Paroline, who was convicted in 2009 for possessing 280 images of child pornography, including her photo of being sexually abused by her uncle. She said the amount represents lost income opportunity and cost to her therapy and legal fees.

But a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Tyler, Texas refused to order Paroline to pay restitution because he did not directly cause or contribute to Amy’s abuse. This prompted Amy to bring the case to the appeals court.

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