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United States v. Berry

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 6, 2020



          Ann Aiken, United States District Judge

         Defendant has been sentenced to sixty months imprisonment for the possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A. The government now seeks mandatory restitution under 18 U.S.C. § 2259 for "Maureen," "Emily," '(Casseaopeia," "Erin," ('Fiona," "Jane," "Jenny," "Pia," "Ava," and "Mya," the ten identified victims. See Id. § 2259 (a) ("the court shall order restitution for any offense under this chapter"). A restitution hearing was held on June 27, 2019 and the Court took the parties' arguments under advisement. Doc. 38.


         The operative restitution statute provides that "the court shall order restitution for any offense under this chapter" and "shall direct the defendant to pay the victim. . . the full amount of the victim's losses." 18U.S.C. §§ 2259(a), (b)(1).[1] Thus, restitution is mandatory for child pornography offenses.

         The Supreme Court established the appropriate causation standard for restitution awards in child pornography cases. See Paroline u. United States, 134 S.Ct. 1710, 1713-14 (2014). In Paroline, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that a defendant convicted of possessing child pornography could be held liable for the full amount of a victim's losses. Id. Instead, the Supreme Court imposed a standard of proximate causation: "Restitution is therefore proper under § 2259 only to the extent the defendant's offense proximately caused a victim's losses." Id., at 1722. At the same time, the Court disavowed a strict, "but-for" causation standard; reasoning that for the purposes of § 2259, the unique harm suffered by child pornography victims, and the "atypical causal process" underlying the victims' losses supported the adoption of principles underlying the government's "aggregate causation" theory and a more flexible causation approach. Id. at 1723-24, 1726 (reiterating that "aggregate causation theories" are not "irrelevant" in determining restitution). Ultimately, the Court held that a district court should order restitution "in an amount that comports with the defendant's relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim's general losses." Id. at 1727. Nonetheless, "[t]his approach is not without its difficulties." Id. at 1729 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting).

         In United States v. Galan, I agreed with a recurring theme trumpeted by the dissent in Paroline; that full restitution for child pornography victims cries out for a legislative, rather than a judicial, solution. See 2014 WL 3474901 (D. Or. July 11, 2014). While I did not necessarily agree with the Paroline dissent that "[t]he statute as written allow[ed] no recovery," I certainly agree[d] with the admonition that "Congress [should] fix it." 134 S.Ct. at 1735 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting).

         I was not alone in joining Chief Justice Robert's and Justice Sotomayor's calls for Congressional action. See, e.g., United States v. Schultz, No. 14-10085-RGS, 2015 WL 5972421, at *3 (D. Mass. 2015) (Judge Stearns stating that Congressional action "would eliminate much of the present variability in victim restitution awards."); United States v. Whitley, 354 F.Supp.3d 930, 939 (N.D. Ill. 2019) (Judge Kendall stating that "the criminal justice system is failing [child pornography] survivors by forcing them to bear the permanent costs of their own trafficking" and highlighting the need for the other branches to ensure mandatory restitution to victims takes place).

         Additionally, numerous researchers have argued for reforming the restitution system for child pornography victims. For instance, Professor Warren Binford argued in 2015 that "Congress must pass new legislation [...] so that the victimization does not continue in perpetuity and the individuals harmed by this horrific crime have the opportunity to recover once and for all." Warren Binford et at., Beyond Paroline: Ensuring Meaningful Remedies for Child Pornography Victims at Home and Abroad, 35 Child. Legal Rts. J. 117, 133 (2015). Professor Cortney Lollar further argued that "[t]he desire to make things right for the young women depicted in child pornography by compensating them for the pain they have experienced is understandable, [but] restitution [in its current form] can serve to exacerbate those harms." Cortney E. Lollar, Child Pornography and the Restitution Revolution, 103 J.Crim. L. & Criminology 343, 350 (2013).

         Against the backdrop of these calls for reform, Congress recently enacted the Amy, Vicky and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act of 2018 (AVAA). See Pub. L. No. 115-299, 132 Stat. 4383 (2018). The Act considers Justice Sotomayor's recommendations in Paroline by recognizing the aggregate causation principle and enacting a fixed minimum restitution amount of $3, 000 within 18 U.S.C. § 2259 (b)(2)(B). See United States v. Monzel, 2019 WL 3242386, at *1 n.1 (D.C. Cir. 2019). The Act also created a defendant-financed restitution fund, the Child Pornography Victims Reserve. See 18 U.S.C. § 2259B. Child pornography victims, at their election, can receive a one-time fixed amount of $35, 000 to help them recover, non-exclusively of restitution. See 18 U.S.C. § 2259A. It is funded by special assessments imposed on convicted Defendants, graduated based on seriousness of crime ($17, 000 maximum for possession, $50, 000 for production, $35, 000 for other trafficking). See Id. To be eligible, a claimant must be found by the Court to be a "victim of the defendant who was convicted of trafficking in child pornography." 18 U.S.C. § 2259(d)(1)(A). The fund has numerous advantages: victims can access at least some of the funds they need to support their recovery relatively quickly, especially compared to restitution or civil litigation, and defendants must pay into the fund whether or not a victim is identified, meaning that offenders do not escape liability.

         The $3, 000 minimum restitution amount may be inadequate. See Paul G. Cassel, et al., The New Amy, Vicky, and Andy Act: A Positive Step Toward Full Restitution for Child Pornography Victims, 31 Fed. Sent. R. 187 (2019), available at 2019 WL 1282359. But this fixed minimum amount prevents courts from awarding nominal or trivial amounts for restitution, which further protects victims.[2] In this case, it allows the Court to dismiss Defendant's request that he be ordered to pay $1, 000 in restitution to each victim. See Def.'s Memo. Regarding Calculation of Restitution. While it is true that "restitution in child pornography cases must comport with a Defendant's relative role in causing the underlying victim's general losses," and that Defendant is "only responsible for a portion of the damage caused to the victims in this case," the new statute under AVAA establishes that "the court shall order restitution in an amount that reflects the Defendant's relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim's losses, but which is no less than $3, 000." 18U.S.C. §2259.

         In this case, Defendant possessed over 600 images or videos of child pornography. The ten different victims are seeking restitution from Defendant as follows: Maureen is seeking $10, 000 and Emily is seeking $15, 000; Casseaopeia, Erin, Fiona, Jane and Jenny are each seeking $3, 000; and Pia, Ava and Mya are each seeking $5, 000.

         Paroline does not preclude restitution when the amount of losses caused by a defendant's conduct cannot be determined with precision. Paroline, 134 S.Ct. at 1715 ("Just as it undermines the purpose of tort law to turn away plaintiffs harmed by several wrongdoers, it would undermine the remedial and penological purposes of § 2259 to turn away victims in cases like this."). Rather,

where it can be shown both that a Defendant possessed a victim's images and that a victim has outstanding losses caused by the continuing traffic in those images but where it is impossible to trace a particular amount of those losses to the individual Defendant by recourse to a more traditional causal inquiry, a court applying ยง 2259 should order restitution in an amount that comports with the ...

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