Supreme Court Vacates Child Porn Victim's $3.4M Award - Decided
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Supreme Court Vacates Child Porn Victim's $3.4M Award

The U.S. Supreme Court has knocked down a multimillion-dollar restitution award to a child pornography victim, stating there needs to be more of a connection between the dollar amount and responsibility for the damage.

Paroline v. U.S. is one of many involving "Amy," a woman who was photographed as a child being raped by her uncle and whose images are commonly found on the computers of child porn offenders, reports The Associated Press. "Amy" had received $3.4 million in restitution from Doyle Randall Paroline, a man whose computer contained two images of her, but the High Court disagreed with the calculation in a 5-4 ruling.

How much restitution do these "Amy" cases warrant?

Restitution Requires Proximate Cause

One of the basic principles of most tort actions is that the defendant's actions must be the proximate cause of the victim's injuries or damages. In determining restitution in the "Amy" cases, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the government need not show that there was a nexus between a child porn possessor's conduct and a victim's losses.

"Amy" and similar victims had argued for this kind of expansive restitution because of the difficulty of collecting any restitution from actual attackers or child pornographers. This way, every offender who viewed and traded in images of "Amy" would be responsible for the total amount of her losses (e.g., therapy).

Other federal circuits had disagreed with this approach, finding that proximate cause was necessary to tie offenders to "Amy"-type victims. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that a common sense reading of the federal mandatory restitution statute means there must be proximate cause between the victim's losses and the actual crime.

How Much Should 'Amy' Get?

Just because "Amy" is not entitled to $3.4 million from Paroline doesn't mean she isn't entitled to anything. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the idea that "Amy's" total losses could simply be equally divided among the hundreds who possessed her images, so how much is she entitled to from offenders like Paroline?

Damages are difficult in cases like these, since there is not an easy way to see how "Amy" could have avoided some part of her total injuries but for one person possessing two of her photos. But difficult doesn't mean impossible.

The High Court noted that lower courts could award restitution to "Amy" and other victims as long as it "comports with the defendant's relative role in the causal process underlying the victim's general losses." This indistinct calculation will be left to the discretion of trial judges.

With "Amy's" $3.4 million award vacated, the Paroline case now heads back to the 5th Circuit for further proceedings.

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