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Child porn victims seek multimillion-dollar payouts

One victim. One photo. $3.68 million

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What about porn mags and movies?

“Presumably, anyone watching porn movies with an underaged character or in possession of a magazine with such a picture could be similarly faced with restitution demands,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has blogged. “Prosecutors could threaten targets with financial ruin under such theories – forcing guilty pleas to other offenses.”

Some of the most outspoken critics remain the judges charged with ruling on the restitution requests. One of the more recent rejections came in August when a federal judge in North Dakota refused Vicky's restitution request against convicted child pornography possessor Louis Solsbury. The judge went on to call the new tactic “an evidentiary nightmare” because for victims such as Amy and Vicky there are literally hundreds of thousands of individuals who have contributed to their considerable losses.

“The court is unable to determine, with any reasonable certainty, what losses are attributable to the egregious acts of sexual abuse committed by Vicky's father, what losses are attributable to the countless others who have received, distributed, or possessed the images, or what losses were caused by this particular defendant's conduct in possessing the pornographic images in North Dakota,” US District Judge Daniel L. Hovland wrote.

“Without more specific evidence, any award of restitution would be an arbitrary calculation based on speculation and guess work, at best. The decision to award restitution in these types of cases should be, and needs to be, based on some semblance of reason, common sense, and fairness rather than speculation.”

The ruling is now under review by the US Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Including rulings in the Solsbury and Paroline cases, there are at least four decisions under appeal, prompting predictions that it's only a matter of time until the US Supreme Court takes up the issue.

But some, including Ohio State University's Berman and at least one jurist, say courts aren't the best venue for settling the issue.

“The undersigned believes that the controversial subject of restitution awards in child pornography cases is one best left for congress to resolve,” Hovland wrote. “These troublesome cases cry out for an appropriate restitution remedy but one best determined by congress – not by a variety of conflicting and inconsistent awards and decisions as have evolved over the past year.” ®

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