Writing in the April online edition of Reason magazine, Jacob Sullom, takes on the irrationality that exists in our nation’s sex offender laws. In his wide-ranging essay, Sullom writes that public fear and disgust lead to strange and uneven outcomes in sex offenses involving minors.
Under federal law…looking at child pornography can be punished as severely as sexually assaulting a child. Receiving child pornography, which could mean viewing a single image, triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. The maximum penalty for receiving or distributing child pornography is 20 years, and federal sentencing guidelines recommend stiff enhancements based on factors that are very common in these cases, such as using a computer, possessing more than 600 images (with each video counted as 75 images), and trading images for something of value, including other images.
Many federal judges have begun to question the sentencing guidelines.
As a result of congressional edicts, the average sentence in federal child pornography cases that do not involve production rose from 54 months in 2004 to 95 months in 2010, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). Many federal judges have rebelled against what they perceive as patently unjust sentences for such offenses. In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that federal sentencing guidelines (as opposed to mandatory minimums set by statute) are merely advisory, freeing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice. After that decision, according to the 2012 USSC report, “the rate of non-production cases in which sentences were imposed within the applicable guideline range steadily fell from its high point in fiscal year 2004, at 83.2 percent of cases, to 40.0 percent of cases in fiscal year 2010, and to 32.7 percent of cases in fiscal year 2011.”
Read Sullom’s full essay at Reason online.