Child Pornography Restitution Now Before the Supreme Court
Two years ago, the Marsh Law Firm filed the first-ever request for federal criminal restitution against a convicted child pornography collector. Since then, we have filed over 700 requests for restitution in every federal district court in the country.
Despite a few decisive victories, a child pornography victim’s right to restitution is being curtailed in circuit after circuit. Recent federal Circuit Court decisions have effectively barred restitution in the Second and Ninth Circuit and the District of Columbia Circuit. Only in the Fifth Circuit—encompassing the states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi—is restitution still mandatory.
When Congress passed the child pornography restitution statute in 1994, it made restitution mandatory for victims. In fact, Congress felt so strongly that every child pornography victim receive the “full amount” of their losses that it used the word mandatory twice in the statute. Despite this clear requirement, many federal courts have sought to limit the amount that convicted child pornography collectors pay their victims by forcing victims to prove precisely how much each individual defendant injured them.
The federal district courts are also severely divided on how to interpret the child pornography restitution statute. Some district courts have held that victims seeking restitution need not establish proximate cause. Other district courts have read a general proximate cause requirement into the statute and then concluded that proximate cause was not established.
Still other district courts read a general proximate cause requirement (or in some courts simply “causation”) into the statute and then find that the victim provided sufficient proof to obtain at least some restitution. The approaches are often arbitrary and have led to widely differing outcomes. For example, a few district courts have
awarded “nominal” restitution in an arbitrary amount, sometimes as low as $100.
The Fifth Circuit got it right in March when it found that “[c]ourts are required to award victims of child sex abuse ‘the full amount of the victim’s losses.’” It held that “Congress abandoned the proximate causation language that would have reached all categories of harm … This change is consistent with the reasons for enacting a second generation of restitution statutes. The evolution in victims’ rights statutes demonstrates Congress’s choice to abandon a global requirement of proximate causation.”
Last month, in an effort to restore a child pornography victim’s rapidly eroding right to restitution, the Marsh Law Firm filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. Only the Supreme Court can conclusively resolve this issue and guarantee a victim’s right to restitution under the child pornography restitution statute. A deepening split amongst the federal circuits and the district courts require a decisive decision and direction that only the Supreme Court can provide.
A coalition of child advocates recently filed three separate amicus briefs supporting our request for Supreme Court review. This rare occurrence will hopefully put the issue of child victim restitution squarely before the Court which is now considering whether or not to accept our case.
Thank you to all the amici who spent a significant amount of time and effort to get these uncommon amicus briefs filed during the summer months. Child victims are grateful for your tireless work on their behalf now and in the future.
Click on the links to read the briefs by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Crime Victim Law Institute and the National Association to Protect Children.
The Marsh Law Firm’s Petition for Cert is here.