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Lawmakers urged to revisit federal child porn sentences

One of the most polarizing issues in the California criminal law arena is the topic of child pornography. This computer crime has become the subject of strident debate within the legal realm, as many consider the current federal sentencing recommendations to be too heavy-handed. At the same time, political figures do not want to appear to be lenient if they revise the sentences.

Over the last 25 years, U.S. Congress has gradually increased the severity of child-porn sentencing. Many judges and attorneys indicate that these moves have only unnecessarily increase prison time for those convicted. In some cases, these Internet crimes carry sentences that are longer than those for rape or sexual assault.

On average, federal judges have issued sentences that are less severe than the federal sentencing guidelines 45 percent of the time. Many consider this to be a way for judges to express their dissatisfaction with the direction federal guidelines have been moving over recent years. This fact has caused sentences to be quite inconsistent from case to case.

Though many in the legal community believe that sentencing guidelines for this type of offense should be reexamined and reduced, many lawmakers refuse to consider such a change. They feel as though it is not politically feasible to support reductions in criminal sentences.

This type of sentiment has upset many legal advocates. They contend that by encouraging such harsh sentences for those charged with possession or receipt of child pornography, lawmakers have "obscured the real distinctions between different offenders."

Anytime that a person is facing sentencing for a federal offense, it is important to remember that the sentence they receive should match the circumstances of the crime for which they have been accused. Everyone accused of a crime deserves a fair and expedient trial; they also deserve a sentence that is fair if they are convicted. Fairness is the cornerstone of our justice system, and those accused of a crime deserve to be treated justly.

Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Debate rages over severity of child-porn sentences," David Crary, April 29, 2012

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