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Department of Justice Response to the Sentencing Commission's Child Pornography Report

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The Department of Justice responds the the United States Sentencing Commissions February 27, 2013 report on Child Pornography sentencing in the federal court system.
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  Na t'! C oo rdinator for Chi ld Exp loitationPreventiona nd Interdiction TheHonorablePatti B.Saris,Chair United States Sentencing Commission OneColumbusCircle, NE Suite2-500,SouthLobby Washington,DC20002-8002 Dear Jud ge Sa ris: U.S. Department of Justice Office of theDeputyAttorney General Washington. D. C. 20530 March5,2013 TheSen te ncing Commissi on's Child Pornography Report ( Report )issuedon February27, 2013,reflectsasignificantamountof detailed rese ar chand thoughtfulanalysis. TheDepartment of Justicethanks the Commission anditsstaff forundertaking the important task of layingthefoundationforreformingsentencingpractices involving non-production child pornography offenses.TheDepartment also appreciatestheopportunityit wasaffordedbythe Commission to presentitsviewsand provide the benefit of itsextensiveexperienceinthisarea. TheDepartment agreeswitb anumber of theCommissio n's conclusions.We agreethat non-production childpornography offenses are serious crimes in and of them se lves, evenabsent evidence th at anoffenderengaged in direct sexual abuse of children.We alsoagree with theCommission's conclusion that non-productionchildpornography offensesare not victimless crimes.Thepossession,receipt,transportation,and distribution of childpornographyperpetuates theha nn to thevictimsdepicted inimages,validatesandnormalizesthesexual exploitation of children,and fuelsa market,therebyleading tofurtherproduction of mages.And,the Department agreeswiththeCommission 's conclusion th at ad vancements in technology and the evolution of thechildpornography market haveled toasignificantlychanged landscape- on ethat isno longer adequately represented by the existing sentencing guidelines. Sp ecifically,we agreewiththeReport'sconclusi on that th e existing Sp ecificOffenseCharacteristics( SOCs ) in USSG §2G2.2 may notaccuratelyreflecttheserionsness of anoffender's conduct, nor fairlyaccountibrdifferingdegrees ofof fender dangerousness. Th ecurre nt guidelines canattimes und er-representandattimesover-representtheseriousness of an offender's conduct and th edanger an offender poses. TheReportrepresents an importantstepin that effort.TheDepartme nt has joined in the call for a critical review oftbe exi st ing sentencing guidelinesfor non-productionchildpornographycrimes.Thisprocessshould not,however, underminethe purposes of the2003 PROTECT Act,which wa s, in part,a response tothe  prevalence of downwarddeparturesandthegeneralinadequacy of sentences inchild pornographycases. See H .R Re p. No. 108-66,108thCong.,2ndSess. 58-59(2003).The threat posed to children bychildpornographytraffickinghas only increasedsince passageofthe PR OTECTAct, as offenders nowtrade largerquantities of childpornographyfeaturingmore explicit and violent conduct involving youngerchildren,and nearlytwo-thirds of all offendersdistributeimagestoothers.Congress recently recognized thegrowingthreat to younger children withthe passage of the Ch ild ProtectionAct of2012 , which,amongotherthings,raisedthe statutorymaximum sentence, fro m ten to twentyyearsimprisonment,for possession of childpornographyinvolving prepubescent children or childrenlessthantwel ve years of age.ThePROTECTAct, as we ll as thesubsequenttechnology-facilitated explosionin child pornography trafficking,counsel in favor of maintaininga robustandstrictsentencing scheme,whilemaking targeted adju st mentstothe sentencingguidelines to better alignsentencing factorswithoffender culpabilityand dangerousne ss andto reduce sentencingdisparities. Below,theDepartmentsets out ( 1) recommendedmodifications to theSOCs in thenonproductionchild pornographysentencing guideline,(2)its con cernsregardingthe Report's conclusions on recidivismand treatment,(3)its position on theReport'ssuggested changesto the childpornographypossessio n, receipt,and distributionstatutes,and(4)a response to the Report'scharacterization oft hc roleofprosecutorialcharging discretioninsentencing disparities. 1. The Department Recommends Targeted Revisions to the Sentencing Guideline. TheDepartme nt believ es thatthe be stway to addressthe con cernsaboutchild pornography sentencingshared bythecourts,prosecutors,and thedefensebar is torevi se §2G2.2to accountfornew technologyand thedramatic evolutioninhow of fendersobtain,store, organize,trade, andprotect child pornographycollections. 1 Accordingly, th eguideline'sSOCs shouldestablishsentencing ranges based onhowanoffenderobtains childpornography; the volumeandty pe of child pornography an off enderco ll ects;how longan o1 Ienderhas beencollecting childpornography;the attentionandcareanoffender gi ve stohiscollection;howan offender useshiscollectiononce obtained; how anoffenderprotects himse lf andhis collectionfromdetection;andwhetheranoffender cr eates, facilitates, orparticipatesin acommunity centered on childexploitation. All of theseareimportantaggravatingfactorsthatshouldbe accounted fo r in the gu ideline. 1 T he Department doesnotbelieve th at revisio ns to Section 2G2.2's SO C:. requireconforming amendments to thecorrespondingprovisionsin Secti on 2G2.1,related to childpornography productionoffenses. 2  TheDepartmentrecommends revising theguidelinewithrespecttothe following SOCs 2: ã Communication/ Group member ship: This newSOC would augm enttheguideline rangefor offende rs who comm unicatedor associatedwithothersconcerningthe sexual abuseorexploitation of a min or. TheSOC could be structured toassessvaryingincreases in offenselevelbased on a range of con duct-addressingoffenderswhocommunicated withothers ou tside a formalgroup regarding theirpreferencesf or certain types of childpornographyorexploitation,members of groupsdedicated totraffickingin or communicating about the sexualexploitation of children,andoffenders wh oencouraged the production of materialsdepicting suchabuse. Membershipin a group is closelycorrelated withparticularly dangerous,prolific, and sophisticatedchild pornographyoffenders. In addition,informal comm unication and participati on inthese groups validates,normalizes, anden courages sexualabuse of minors by other individuals.Enhancementsfor providing incentiv esfo r the pr o du ction of childpornography and foraleadership orfacilitatingrole inthe groupwould address theoffender 's aggravatingrolein effectuating the exploitation of minors. ã Duration of co nduct: ThisnewS OC would increase thepunishm ent foroffenders who engaged inrepeated and long-termchild pornography co llecting or trafficking. Off enderswho spe nd yearsamass in g childpornographycollections would thereby,for the firsttime,bedistinguishedfrom offenderswhoarerelative new comers to thistype ofcriminal condu ct. ã Offendersophistication: Thi s new SOC would enha ncethe guideline range foroffenderswhoused,oradvised othe rs regardingtheuseof, technologies or pr ocedures toevadedetection bylaw enforcement.Thesetec hn ologies and procedures (currently includingencryption and anonymization, and suretoevolve in unforeseeable waysin conjunction with offenders'efforts tothwart detection) are frequentlyemployed by the most dedicated, sophisticated, and dangerouschildpornography offenders. Mor eover, they makedetection and appre hen sion of offenders far mor e onero us for lawenforcement. ã Pattem of activity: Thiscurrent SOC should be retained, but theDepartmentrecommendsmodifyingthe definition in application not e1toincludeconduct that involvedonly one instance of thesexual abuse or sexualexploitation ofa minor(as opposed to th e curr ent r equ irement of tw oinstances).Alternatively, the enhancement cou ldberevis ed so that an offenderreceives varyingincreases in offenselevelbased on whether his conduct involved one ,two, or more instances of sexualabuseor sexual exploitation of a minor. 2 We recognizethatsome of theSOCsmayoverlapandaddressthe same offenseconduct. Th eserecommendations aren ot intended to suggest that all SOCsshouldbe cumulativetooneanother. 3  ã Use of a computer: Becausethe vast majority of child porn ographyoffenses now invol ve the use of a c ompu ter,this SOC sho ul dbeeliminated andreplaced by other s, such asthosesuggestedabove and below, which betterdistinguishbetweendifferentclasses of offenders. ã Distribution: ThisSOCshouldcontinueto au gmentthe guideline range foroffenders who distributedimages,especially to a minor,and in particular fordistribution to a minorwiththeintent to induce th e minor toengage in prohibitedse xualcon du ct. ã Image severity: Thi s SOC shouldcontinuetoincreasetheguidelinerange for off enses involving material that portrayssadistic or masochisticcond uct , and shouldalsoinversely corr elate pun ishm ent severity with theage of the victimdepicted (e .g., significantly enhancedsentencesfor ima ges of infants,babies, or toddlers). ã Imagequant ity: Thi s SOC should continue to tietheguideline range to the qua ntity of child porn ograp hy an offendercollected,but, in light of thetechnology-facilitat ed ease of obtaining largerchild porn ography collections,the num ericthresholdss hould be substantially increased foreach offense level,soas tobetterdistinguishbetweenoccasi onal andhab itual co tiectors of childpo rn ography. 2. The Report's AssertionsRegarding the Recidivism Risk Posedby Child Pornograph yOffenders and theEffectiveness of RehabilitationShouldNotBe the Basis of Sentencing Policy. NotwithstandingtheDepartme nt's general agreement thatthereisamisaligrunent betweenthenon-production childpornographysent en cingguidelinesand offenderculpability anddangerousness,and thatrevisions to the SOCs in USSG§2G2.2(b) are warranted,the Department tak e::> issuewithtwobroadconclusionsintheReport: that the recidivism rate of childpornography of fenders is not particularlyhighcomparedtoother off enders,and thatchild pornographyoffenderscan be successfully treated.The Report drawsthese conclusionswitho ut a suf ficientfactualpredicate;in the Department'sview,firm conclusionscannot be drawn onthose questions basedon theexisting dataand literatur e, which reach disparateconclusions regarding recidivismand rehabi li tation.TheDepartment is concerned·thattheReport 's a.c;s ertionsregardingrecidivisma nd rehabilitation,whicharebased on only asmall number of imprecise socialscience studiesrather thanawidely-acceptedscientificconsensus, can be used to ju stifyreductions in childpornography sentenceswithout a sufficientbasisoradequate consideration of the ~iatuto ry goals of sentencing. a.Withrespecttorecidivism,theReport assertsthat therate of known recidivism bychildpornographyoffendersmaynot beas high assome judgesandpolicymakers believe,and issimilar tothe rateofknown generalrecidivism fortheentire federaloffender population. See ReportCh.1J,pp.293, 308-09. By trackingonly defendants wh ohavebeenconvicted of asubsequentoffense, however, known recidivismdatafailstocapturedefend an tswho 4
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