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Sixth Circuit: 1 Day Child Pornography Sentence Unreasonable

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

What’s an appropriate sentence for a defendant who pleads guilty to possessing over 7,100 images of child pornography?

While the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to answer that precise question this week, it ruled that a one-day sentence and a $100 fine landed on the lax side of the child pornography sentence spectrum.

Rufus Robinson paid for a subscription to a site that hosted child pornography, including images that involved the bondage, torture, and rape of prepubescent children. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement official contacted Robinson and informed his that he was suspected of possessing child pornography, he cooperated with the investigation.

Robinson later pleaded guilty -- without a plea agreement -- to one count of possessing child pornography. His Presentence Report (PSR) recommended a Sentencing Guidelines-range sentence, and neither Robinson nor the government objected.

Based on three psychometric tests which indicated that Robinson did not appear to be a pedophile, and evidence of Robinson's own efforts to seek treatment, the district court applied a downward variance and sentenced Robinson to one day of imprisonment, with credit for time already served, followed by a period of supervised release for five years, and a $100 special assessment.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found the variance in Robinson's sentencing to be substantively unreasonable based on the record because it did not reflect "the seriousness of the crime" and undermined "the purpose of general deterrence" because it lacked "any significant period of incarceration home confinement, or substantial fine," reports The Wall Street Journal.

The appellate court noted that fashioning an appropriate child pornography sentence is a difficult task, and recognized that there can be very different circumstances -- such as a history of sexual abuse or other extraordinary circumstances -- for which the Supreme Court's U.S. v. Booker decision requires a district court judge to decide an appropriate sentence. With that in mind, the Sixth Circuit declined to suggest an appropriate sentence.

What is an appropriate child pornography sentence for a defendant like Rufus Robinson? Even if the psychometric tests indicate that Robinson is unlikely to prey upon children and is not addicted to child pornography, shouldn't there be a serious penalty for purchasing images that exploited children?

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