The Supreme Court has lent a sympathetic ear to a victim of child pornography who wants the court to make it easier for victims to collect money from people convicted of downloading and viewing the pornographic images.
The justices underscored in arguments Wednesday that the woman, known as Amy, and other victims of child pornography suffer serious psychological harm whenever anyone looks at their images online.
But the court seemed to struggle with determining how much restitution for counseling, lost income and legal fees any single defendant should be asked to pay.
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that asks whether a victim of child pornography can seek millions of dollars from a defendant who had just two images of her on his computer.
The woman, known only as Amy, is trying to convince the justices in arguments Wednesday that people convicted of possessing child pornography should be held liable for the entire cost of the harms their victims suffer, including in psychiatric care, lost income and legal fees.
Defendant Doyle Randall Paroline is appealing a lower court order holding him responsible for the nearly $3.4 million judgment associated with the ongoing Internet trade and viewing of images of Amy being raped by her uncle when she was 8 and 9 years old.
Also Wednesday, the high court is expected to issue opinions in cases heard in the fall.
Amy's lawyers estimate that tens of thousands of people worldwide have downloaded and viewed Amy's images.
Since 2005, there have been about 2,000 prosecutions in federal court that, like Paroline's, included images of the rapes, for which Amy's uncle spent about 10 years in prison and paid a few thousand dollars for counseling sessions for Amy.
Courts so far have awarded restitution in 182 cases and Amy has collected $1.6 million. Of that total, $1.2 million came from one man.
Advocates for victims of child pornography argue that the threat of a large financial judgment, coupled with a prison term, also might deter some people from looking at the images in the first place.
The ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans would make it easier for courts to impose large restitution orders, if it is upheld by the Supreme Court. Courts would not have to determine exactly how much harm any one defendant caused Amy. Instead, all defendants would be liable for the entire outstanding amount, raising the possibility that a few well-heeled people among those convicted might contribute most, if not all, of the remaining restitution.
Paroline says there is no link between his conduct and the award ordered by the appeals court.
The Obama administration takes a middle ground, saying victims should be awarded some money from each defendant but not the entire amount. Trial judges should make the determination, the administration says.
The case is Paroline v. Amy Unknown and U.S., 12-8561.
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