Federal Report Will Decide if Child Pornography Sentencing Is Too Severe

The challenging nature of federal crimes investigations and prosecutions is well known among criminal defense attorneys. People who are accused of crimes involving child pornography, drugs or white collar issues that are subject to federal charges must understand that prosecutors have vast resources backed by stiff sentences and penalties.

Sex crimes legal experts are anticipating an upcoming report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission regarding harsh sentencing of child pornography offenders. Defense attorneys and many federal judges have long argued that punishment for child porn possession or distribution has grown far out of proportion to other crimes.

Based on a formal review dating to 2009, the commission is scheduled to deliver its report on sentencing of child pornography offenders by the end of this year. Many reasons illustrate why the report is likely to propose changes to the sentencing guidelines:

  • The average sentence for a federal conviction for a child pornography crime in 2010 was exceeded only by murder and kidnapping, and was even higher than sentences for acts of sexual abuse
  • This is true even though federal judges actually departed downward from the sentencing guidelines in 45 percent of cases in 2010
  • In a commission survey, 70 percent of federal judges said that sentences proposed by federal guidelines were excessive

Underscoring these trends, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers recently published an article from former Sen. Arlen Specter and former federal prosecutor Linda Dale Hoffa. They accuse Congress of losing sight of the point of criminal justice "in the rush to prove itself hostile to individuals who possess or distribute child pornography."

In Michigan, the percentage of federal child pornography convictions as opposed to drug trafficking, fraud and other federal offenses is almost double the national average. Whether or not political will exists to amend sentencing guidelines, people accused after an Internet sting operation or under other circumstances have a great deal at stake.