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The Boston Globe

Nation

Court weighs child porn restitution

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices expressed compassion for a woman raped as a child as they struggled with how much money should be paid to her by one man convicted of possessing pornographic images of the abuse that have spread among thousands of online viewers.

The woman known as ‘‘Amy’’ was in the courtroom, her legal team said, for arguments in which the justices talked frankly about the abuse she and other victims of child pornography suffer from those who look at the pictures.

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‘‘The woman has undergone serious psychiatric harm because of her knowledge that there are thousands of people out there viewing her rape,’’ Justice Antonin Scalia said early in the hourlong arguments.

Yet the court seemed to wrestle with determining how much restitution for counseling, lost income, and legal fees any single defendant should be asked to pay.

The justices heard an appeal from Doyle Randall Paroline, who was held liable by a federal appeals court 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.

Paroline had hundreds of images of children on his computer when he was arrested; two were of Amy.

‘‘He’s guilty of the crime, but to sock him with all of her psychiatric costs and everything else because he had two pictures of her. Congress couldn’t have intended that,’’ Scalia said in an exchange with Amy’s lawyer, Paul Cassell.

Several other justices also said they were troubled by the apparent lack of a link between the crime and the restitution order, even as Cassell sought to explain to the court that the number of images possessed by Paroline might be relevant in determining jail time or a fine, but not to the harm inflicted on Amy, now in her 20s.

When Congress wrote the 1994 law giving victims of child pornography and other sexual crimes the right to collect restitution from people convicted of the crimes, it meant to make it easy for the victim to collect, Cassell said.

The idea, he said, is that courts could hold everyone responsible for the total amount. Most people, including Paroline, could afford only a small portion, but a few wealthier defendants might be able to pay the bulk of the judgment.

‘‘We’re not asking for double recovery. Amy simply wants to be made whole. She wants to recover her psychological counseling costs and her losses,’’ Cassell said.

She has so far received more than $1.75 million, Cassell said.

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