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Should child porn 'consumers' pay victim millions? Supreme Court to decide.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the government or the victim must be able to prove there is a causal relationship between the child pornography consumer's conduct and harm to the victim.

By Staff writer / June 27, 2013

The Supreme Court ahead of key decisions is seen in Washington, Monday, June 17. The high court on Thursday agreed to examine whether child porn 'consumers' be required to pay millions to victims.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Washington

The US Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to examine whether anyone convicted of possessing images of child pornography can be required to pay a multimillion dollar restitution award to the abused child depicted in the illicit images – even if the individual had no direct contact with the child-victim.

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Under the Mandatory Restitution for Sexual Exploitation of Children Statute, Congress said that a judge “shall order restitution” for the victim in a child pornography case in “the full amount of the victim’s losses.”

The law applies to those who personally engage in physical abuse of a child while producing pornographic images of the abuse. But the question in the appeal is whether the same law requires anyone who views or possesses the resulting child pornography to also pay the total amount of restitution.

The issue has arisen in hundreds of cases across the country involving possession of child pornography. The vast majority of courts have declined to require child pornography consumers (as opposed to producers) to pay the full amount of restitution. Only one federal appeals court, the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, has ordered full restitution under such circumstances.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to examine a case from the Fifth Circuit and decide whether the government or the victim must be able to prove there is a causal relationship between the defendant’s conduct and harm to the victim and the victim’s claimed damages.

The issue arises in the case of an East Texas man, Doyle Paroline, who faced a restitution demand of $3.4 million after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. Investigators found 280 images on his computer. He was sentenced to two years in prison and 10 years of supervised release.

After his conviction, experts at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children determined the identity of one of the children whose images were on Paroline’s computer. They identify her in court papers by the pseudonym “Amy.”

They found at least two images of Amy. Lawyers working on her behalf filed the request for full restitution.

Amy had been sexually abused as a child by her uncle. The uncle recorded the abuse on film and distributed the images on the Internet. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has found at least 35,000 copies of images of Amy’s abuse among the evidence in 3,200 child pornography cases since 1998.

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