Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Can possessors of c.p. or other illegal materials be ordered to pay restitution (for mere possession)?

The New York Times has an intriguing story by John Schwartz today (Wednesday, Feb.3) about a new legal initiative: making those who “merely” possess, but did not produce, child pornography, help pay civil financial restitution to victims. The link for the story is (web URL) here.

A victim with surname Amy is suing to demand that everyone who possessed a copy of an illegal image of her pay restitution until a claim of $3.4 million is settled.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has a blog entry relating the story of a former Pfizer executive to pay $200000 for possessing an image of a woman taken when she was a minor. The blog entry is here.

(I have reviewed books on Internet law, reputation and privacy by another GWU professor, Daniel Solove, on my books blog.)

Turley writes “it stretches personal accountability to a breaking point. …, The extension of the definition of victim could lead to liability without limitation. 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. Prosecutors could threaten targets with financial ruin under such theories — forcing guilty pleas to other offenses. Restitution is generally limited to the direct victims of the defendant’s actions.” He also makes analogies to how this could set a precedent in other areas, such as owners of pawn shops when they receive stolen property (although that was a major concern with a crime spree in Montgomery County MD which was solved in 2008 when an alert pawn shop operator called police).

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