In Child Pornography Cases, Collectors Might Be Charged Too

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that would allow a victim of child pornography to seek damages not only from the pornographers, but also from their online clients.

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At the Supreme Court today, the justices weighed how to compensate victims of child pornography and who should be liable when thousands of people may have possessed the images. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The case revolves around a woman named Amy. She was raped by her uncle when she was eight years old. Images and videos from that abuse have turned up more than 3,000 times since the late '90s, sending her into therapy and making it hard for her to work. Amy's uncle was sentenced to prison and ordered to turn over about $6,000 in restitution. The question for the court today is how much money other child porn defendants should be forced to pay. In other words, is possessing a few pictures enough to put someone on the hook for millions?

The defendant here, Doyle Randall Paroline, pleaded guilty to downloading hundreds of images, including two photos of Amy. Overall, Amy estimates she's owed more than $3 million. But Justice Antonin Scalia said to sock Paroline for all those costs just because he downloaded two pictures of Amy didn't sound right. The justices struggled with how to assign a dollar figure to the harm, especially when thousands of people might download child porn but only two or three might be caught and prosecuted. The lawyer for Doyle Paroline says prosecutors need to prove a link between Amy's losses and his conduct.

The Justice Department argued for a middle ground - that Amy deserves some money from Paroline, but not $3 million. Where to draw that line is something the justices must decide before the end of the term this June. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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