Supreme Court Puts Limit on Compensation to Child Pornography Victims

The Supreme Court has ruled that victims of child pornography should be paid restitution by those convicted of possessing the material — but within limits.

In Wednesday’s 5-4 ruling, the high court instructed lower courts that judges will have to apportion the amount of damages in relation to how much anguish and pain the convict’s actions caused.

The case being considered involved a woman, known only by the pseudonym Amy, who was sexually abused by her uncle and forced into child pornography at age 8. He was arrested and sentenced to prison.

A major blow to her mental recovery came at age 17, when she discovered that the photos were being circulated on the Internet. She estimated that the total cost of her treatment and recovery is roughly $3.4 million.

The question for the Supreme Court was how much of that should be paid by a Texas man who pleaded guilty to possessing two pictures of Amy among hundreds of images of child pornography. Amy and her lawyers argued that every trafficker possessing those pictures should be liable for the full amount of her damages.

The defendant’s lawyers, however, argued that he shouldn't have to pay anything — unless it could be proven that she wouldn’t have suffered any injury if he had not had the pictures.

The Supreme Court did not set the restitution amount to be paid to Amy in this case: It returned the question to the trial court to figure that out.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent of her own.

— Pete Williams