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Supreme Court refuses to review 200-year sentence for child porn

Sign of the times

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a man who was sentenced to 200 years in prison for the possession of child pornography. It was one of several recent actions indicating that America's courts are getting tough on kiddie-porn suspects in an age where the trafficking of such images are easier than ever.

Lawyers for Morton R. Berger argued the sentence was excessive and therefore breached constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment. Sentencing requirements in Arizona, where the 57-year-old former high school teacher lived, impose a 10-year term for each count of child pornography, and each sentence must be served consecutively. That makes sentences in the state longer than in any other. It's also longer than sentences for offenses such as rape and second-degree murder.

The Supreme Court's refusal, which was made without comment, isn't the only action taken against those convicted or accused of crimes involving child porn.

On Thursday, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled (PDF) that the mere receiving of emails containing images of child porn was grounds for serving a search warrant on a suspect, provided there's an inference of a crime.

Kenneth Kelley, who was convicted of possessing sexually explicit images of children, argued that the emails, without proof he had solicited them, weren't sufficient grounds for a search. A district court judge agreed, but a three-judge panel of the appeals court overturned that decision.

A different appeals court in a separate case upheld a sentence permanently prohibiting a man convicted of possessing child porn from using the Internet. The man, Calvin Milo Alvarez, argued that prohibition was excessive, but the appeals court disagreed, noting that Alvarez had admitted he had trouble refraining from looking at child porn online.

The get-tough approach to protecting children is a good thing, but like many well-intentioned policies, it's possible for it to be taken too far. An example is the conviction of a substitute teacher after a computer in her class room exposed several middle school students to pornographic images. Defense arguments that malware previously installed on the PC caused the images to be displayed automatically were rejected at trial. She faces up to 40 years in prison if her case is upheld on appeal. ®

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