RESPONDENT: United States and Amy Unknown
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas
DOCKET NO.: 12-8561
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
CITATION: 572 US (2014)
GRANTED: Jun 27, 2013
ARGUED: Jan 22, 2014
DECIDED: Apr 23, 2014
Michael R. Dreeben - on behalf of the respondent
Paul G. Cassell - on behalf of the respondent amy unknown
Stanley G Schneider - on behalf of the petitioner, appointed by this court
Facts of the case
Doyle R. Paroline pled guilty to possession of 150-300 images of child pornography. Included among those files on his computer were two photographs of Amy Unknown, a victim of child pornography. He was sentenced to 24 months of incarceration followed by release under supervision. Under a federal statute that mandates full restitution to victims of child pornography by those convicted of creating, distributing or possessing such material, the Government and Amy sought restitution in the amount of nearly $3.4 million. The district court denied restitution and held that the statute required the Government to prove that Paroline's possession of the images was the proximate cause of the injuries for which restitution was sought. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and held that Paroline was responsible for restitution for all the victim's losses even if his criminal acts occurred after the victim's losses.
To recover restitution, must either the government or the victim establish a causal relationship between the defendant's conduct and the victim's harm or damages?
Media for Paroline v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 22, 2014 in Paroline v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 23, 2014 in Paroline v. United States
Justice Kennedy has our opinion this morning in case 12-8561, Paroline v. United States.
For certain federal crimes, Congress not only provides for imprisonment and fines payable to the Government but also requires the offender to pay restitution to victims.
For child pornography possession, Congress has made restitution by the offender, mandatory.
The petitioner in this case was found guilty of child pornography possession.
Two of the pictures he possessed depicted the respondent victim being abused by her uncle when she was eight and nine years old.
The abuse itself caused serious damage to the victim.
Treatment and counseling were needed.
It appeared the child victim was starting to recover but then a new injury occurred.
When she was seventeen, the victim learned that these horrific humiliating pictures were being circulated on the internet nationwide and no doubt worldwide.
The total number of possessors is not known but reaches into the thousands.
The victim's knowledge of this traffic renewed her humiliation and fear.
This caused further trauma and made it hard for her to move on from the abuse.
The victim has estimated her total losses, that's the cause of future treatment and loss income, at about $3.4 million.
The question here is how much of these losses of earning must be paid by this defendant, after all he was one of the persons who possessed the pictures, and it was the dissemination in viewing of these images that caused the victim such shame yet he was only one of thousands, and the victim would have suffered greatly even if he had never viewed the images.
Should he have to pay restitution?
And if so, what is the proper amount?
Today's case presents these questions.
The Court's analysis begins with the restitution statute.
For the reason set forth in the opinion, the Court concludes that the defendant should be liable for losses that were the proximate result of this offense and of his particular offense.
All parties agreed that the statute require some causal connection between the offense and the losses and proximate cost of the traditional standard of causation in both tort law and in many instances in the criminal law.
The statute the Court concludes requires proximate causation and limits restitution the losses the defendant proximately caused.
But to say the proximate cause is the governing standard is just the beginning.
How is that standard applied to the facts of this case where there were thousands of offenders who participated in varying degrees in the traffic and the victim's images?
There are at least three possible answers.
The first possibility is that an individual possessor should pay nothing unless it can be shown that the victim's losses would have been less if not for that individual possessors acts.
That is the view of the District Court took below and it's the view that the defendant argues in this case.
The second possibility is that each possessor should be liable for the full $3.4 million, jointly and severally with other defendants who possessed the victim's images.
That is the view of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit took in this case below and that's the view that the victim urges in this Court.
The third possibility is that each possessor should be liable for some more circumscribed amount measured by his or her individual role in overall process that caused the victim's general losses.
That is the view the Government has urged and it is the view the Court today adopts.