Restitution Allowed But Limited by U.S. Supreme Court in Child Pornography Cases

A recent Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States has limited, but not eliminated, restitution requirements for possession of child pornography.  In the case, Doyle Paroline, was convicted of possessing over 150 digital files depicting child pornography.  Of the files, two contained pictures of a woman who is only identified as “Amy” in the record, with her name being held confidential due to her age at the time of the offense.  “Amy,” now an adult, had been abused by her uncle when she was only eight or nine years old.  She claimed that the abuse has caused her to incur over three million dollars in fees for psychological care, lost income, and attorney’s fees due to the abuse and the continued viewing of the images of her online.  By her estimation, over 70,000 people had viewed the images of her abuse.

The Supreme Court of the United States reasoned that, although “Amy” is certainly owed restitution for the criminal possession of the child pornography images, “Amy’s” recovery should be based on the proportion of harm committed by this individual Defendant.  Unfortunately, There is no formula to determining the exact amount of restitution, which should be determined on a case by case basis by the sentencing Court, and consider the Defendant’s “relative role” in causing the child pornography victim’s loss.

This matter dealt with the financial consequences of possession of child pornography, and did not address the life altering restrictions on freedom resulting from a criminal conviction for possession, dissemination, or production of child pornography.  Penalties which include periods of incarceration, often determined as a period of years rather than months, and the harsh civil consequences under SORNA which often makes life outside of incarceration a great burden.