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Child porn discussion front and center in federal case ruling

Concurring federal judges in a recently decided appellate case considering a lower-court ruling did not question the appropriateness of a trial judge's conduct or thought processes.

What they did question were some central assumptions regarding judicial and political policies surrounding child pornography.

The sex crime case, which was on appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was focused pointedly on an evidentiary issue, namely, whether reference to child-centric videos of a sexual nature at trial was appropriate, given lack of evidence that the defendant who possessed them had ever downloaded them online or watched them.

The appellate court ruled unanimously that the evidence was carefully restricted and properly referred to in a limited sense, thus justifying its use during trial.

Despite their agreement, two justices wrote separately to question whether the common imposition of lengthy prison terms for first-time offenders in child porn cases is of real utility in reforming them or combating the problem generally. The defendant in the case received a 10-year sentence.

Lengthy sentences for first offenses "cannot be the answer," wrote one of the judges. A fellow justice stressed his view that "psychological impairment" is a prime catalyst in many child pornography cases. Both judges are in favor of a more fundamental discussion focusing on sentencing rationale, proper treatment for convicted defendants and strategies that might better deter crime against children.

There are a number of federal appellate circuits across the country, with Arkansas being in the 5th Circuit. Although a ruling issued by any given court is mandatory only within its geographically assigned region, the views of justices on certain matters can be persuasive throughout the country and influence future decisions in other jurisdictions.

As seen in the instant case, concurring opinions written to address a distinct facet of a case can engender widespread discussion.

Source: Courthouse New Service, "Child-porn sentencing questioned by judges," Dave Tartre, Sept. 5, 2014

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