No sane person would argue that soliciting sex from a minor or creating or sharingchild pornography in Florida is acceptable or that such behavior should not be deterred and punished. However, has our justice system on both the federal and state levels unfairly demonized those who look at and even share this kind of pornography?
Bestselling author John Grisham believes that the priorities of our legal system are out of whack.
A compelling essay recently published in Reason Magazine shines light on Grisham’s position and forces us to reconsider some conventionally assumed ideas about what child pornography crimes are and how they should be punished.
The opening sentence of the Reason article poses a prickly point: “There is clearly something wrong with a justice system in which people who look at images of child rape can be punished more severely than people who rape children.”
The Reason editorial analyzes the position of bestselling author, John Grisham, who told the Telegraph (a big British paper) that the criminal penalties for possessing child pornography were too harsh. Unsurprisingly, this opinion sparked a firestorm of criticism. The legal thriller author later retracted and clarified his statement.
But the Reason editorial suggests Grisham “was right on two important points: people who download child pornography are not necessarily child molesters, and whatever harm they cause by looking at forbidden pictures does not justify the penalties they often receive.”
The article points out that federal law mandates that downloading just a single child pornographic image can lead to a minimum five year jail sentence. Intentionally and deliberately viewing an image triggers the same penalty as sharing it, and the maximum sentence is 20 years behind bars. Reason writes: “In a 2009 analysis, [a] federal public defender… showed that a defendant with no prior criminal record and no history of abusing children would qualify for a sentence of 15 to 20 years based on a small collection of child pornography and one photo swap, while a 50-year-old man who encountered a 13-year-old girl online and lured her into a sexual relationship would get no more than 4 years.”
Let that observation marinate a little bit. We'll discuss more implications of Grisham's ideas in another post.
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