Victims of child pornography can be paid for their losses, but within limits, high court says

The Associated Press

FILE - This Oct. 13, 2013 file photo shows Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy speaking in Philadelphia. The Supreme Court on Wednesday said a federal law limits how much money victims of child pornography can recover from people who viewed their images online, throwing out a nearly $3.4 million judgment in favor of a woman whose childhood rape has been widely seen on the Internet. Kennedy said for the court that federal judges should exercise discretion in awarding restitution. The case involved a woman known in court papers by the pseudonym "Amy." Her losses have been pegged at nearly $3.4 million, based on the ongoing Internet trade and viewing of images of her being raped by her uncle when she was 8 and 9 years old. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

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Kennedy said such an approach would undermine a purpose of restitution, which is to make defendants aware that their crimes have victims, because many offenders would have to pay nothing.

Still, he said, "the victim should someday collect restitution for all her child pornography losses, but it makes sense to spread payment among a larger number of offenders in amounts more closely in proportion to their respective causal roles and their own circumstances."

Paul Cassell, who argued the woman's case at the Supreme Court, posted her statement on the Volokh Conspiracy website. "I really don't understand where this leaves me and other victims who now have to live with trying to get restitution probably for the rest of our lives. The Supreme Court said we should keep going back to the district courts over and over again but that's what I have been doing for almost six years now," she said.

She has so far received more than $1.75 million from people convicted of possessing pornographic images of her, Cassell told the court. Of that total, $1.2 million came from one man, Arthur Staples, a Virginia sheriff's deputy who had more than $2 million in retirement savings.

The case is Paroline v. Amy Unknown and U.S., 12-8561.

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