This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
What’s worse: raping a child, or paying someone else to do it?
The U.S. Sentencing Commission might not see it that way, but that’s the question it faces as it reviews federal criminal penalties for consumers of child pornography.
Some federal judges and defense attorneys are pushing to lower the recommended minimum sentences for people convicted of downloading or possessing child porn. In 2011, according to The Associated Press, the median sentence was seven years and the mandatory minimum for many such crimes was five years.
Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and former federal prosecutor Linda Dale Hoffa recently criticized the current guidelines as too harsh. “The fact that child pornography offenders can be given longer sentences than child abusers or violent offenders reflects a lack of care by Congress,” they wrote in the journal of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Many federal judges seem to agree. More than 40 percent of the time, they give convicted defendants lighter penalties than the guidelines call for.
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