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Child Porn Trafficking Life Sentence Upheld by 11th Circuit

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on February 08, 2012 5:03 AM

Convicted members of an international child-pornography ring will spend the rest of their lives in prison, but a lower court will reconsider a child victim's restitution award, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Eleventh Circuit on Tuesday affirmed life sentences for seven men convicted in a widespread child-porn operation that involved more than 60 people in at least six countries.

But the three-judge panel vacated a $3.2 million restitution award against one of the men, for a 4-year-old girl depicted in the illegal images. Why vacate the victim's award?

Because the Eleventh Circuit questioned whether the man was the proximate cause of the girl's injuries. That's required for a child-porn victim to receive restitution, the court held.

Proximate cause refers to the scope of a defendant's responsibility. Applied to this case, the convicted pornographer's actions must be shown to have caused the girl's injuries, the Eleventh Circuit held.

No such evidence has been presented, the court explained. "[O]ur review of the record shows no basis for determining whether [the man's] possession of child pornography proximately caused any of [the victim's] harm," the court wrote.

"We do not seek to minimize the harm suffered by [the girl]," the court continued, but the law does not call for strict liability for the possession of "admittedly repugnant images or videos."

A lower-court evidentiary hearing should decide if proximate cause exists, and then impose a reasonable restitution award, the Eleventh Circuit ordered.

As for the child-porn sentences, the court held that life behind bars was not "grossly disproportionate" to the men's crimes. As such, the life sentences do not violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the court said.

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