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A lifetime ban on Internet and pornography is not unreasonable punishment for a man caught sharing child pornography, the Eleventh Circuit ruled on Wednesday. In 2013, Glen Sterling Carpenter was caught downloading and possessing child pornography. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release.
That release included two special conditions: Carpenter may never again possess a device capable of connecting to the Internet and he many never posses any sexually explicit material whatsoever. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit upheld his punishment, finding nothing unreasonable about it.
Carpenter's Crime and Its Punishment
Carpenter's crime was discovered three years ago, when federal investigators found him sharing child porn over the Internet. A search of his computer turned up 64 illegal videos. Some of them were quite disturbing, involving minors under the age of 12 and "sadistic and masochistic conduct." He confessed and eventually pled guilty to one count of possession of child pornography.
Carpenter's presentence investigation report recommended a prison term of 97 to 121 months and supervised release of 5 years to life. In calculating his sentence, the PSI started at a base offense level of 18, bumped up to 30 because of aggravating factors such as Carpenter's distribution of child porn, the ages of the children, and the amount of material discovered.
It also recommended that Carpenter be banned from computers outside of work and prohibited from possessing any sexually explicit material whatsoever.
At sentencing, Carpenter argued for a lower prison term, but did not object to the conditions of his relief. Indeed, his attorney argued for lifetime supervised release so that Carpenter would "always have the resources that Probation has to offer in terms of counseling and therapy." The court sentenced Carpenter to the shortest prison term recommended by the PSI, along with lifetime supervised release.
Reasonable, and Unappealable, Terms
Carpenter's failure to contest the terms of his release was fatal to his later appeal. Carpenter cannot complain about his release or its conditions, the Eleventh Circuit concluded, since he "expressly requested" a life term and "thereby invited any error" the court may have made. Carpenter was stuck with the conditions. Judge Stanley Marcus wrote the opinion for the panel, which included judges Bill and Jill Pyror (no relation.)
When it came to the length of Carpenter's prison sentence, Carpenter had objected, but unsuccessfully. At sentencing, he argued that mitigating factors, including drug addiction and childhood abuse, entitled him to a downward variance. The Sentencing Commission itself has been extremely critical of the federal child pornography sentencing guidelines, describing them as outdated and leading to disproportionate sentences. Courts typically went below them in cases such as Carpenter's, he argued. But, that does not mean that courts must downward vary, the Eleventh Circuit said, nor does it make Carpenter's sentence unreasonable. In light of the gruesome nature of some of the child pornography, a prison term of 97 months was appropriate.