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January 15, 2007

Another effect of extreme mandatory sentencing laws

A reader sent me this disconcerting story from ABC News discussing a recent case in which a 16-year-old Phoenix boy was arrested for possession of computer child porn and threatened with a minimum of 90 years in prison under Arizona's severe child porn laws.  As the story explains, according to an array of experts, the teenager was likely innocent, but he felt compelled to plead guilty to a (peculiar) lesser charge rather than face the risk of a unavoidably harsh mandatory sentence if he was wrongfully convicted at trial.

Many have long noted and justifiably lamented the extreme bargaining power that severe mandatory sentences can give to prosecutors.  This teenager's tale — and a similar case from Arizona in which a respected teacher received a 200-year prison sentence for possessing computer child pornography (basics here, commentary here) in part because he would not cut a deal — spotlight the particular injustices that can flow from extreme mandatory sentencing terms for an array of sex-related offenses.

January 15, 2007 at 07:47 PM | Permalink


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Perhaps this is the kind of case that would prompt the Arizona legislature to revise the law. If this isn't egregious enough, what would be?

This kid ended up with a fairly good outcome, considering the possibilities (no jail time, no sex-offender status), but he is probably scarred for life -- for no good reason.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jan 16, 2007 9:40:37 AM

The 200-year sentence is, unfortunately, not atypical. I have defended a number of alleged sex offenders. In perhaps more than any other area the pressure to plead, no matter the weakness of the govt's case, is overwhelming. Unlike trying a murder, or drug, or robbery case, in SO cases, the jury is all looking at the defendant and thinking of their kids as victims. All too often the govt offer, no matter how draconian, and unbalanced considering the nature of the offense, is the best of a poor group of alternatives. These types of cases cry out for treatment and not incarceration. Maybe some day this country will enter a period of enlightenment in this area, but I fear it is a long time coming. Remember what the defendant and his counsel are up against - a legislature filled with hypocritical corrupt buffoons, sanctimonious disingenuous prosecutors, and lazy law enforcement personnel whose primary interest is in when their twenty years is up so they can retire at full pay. It is a no-win situation until all three of those elements are changed.

Posted by: Bernie Kleinman | Jan 16, 2007 11:04:46 AM

These types of cases cry out for treatment and not incarceration.

This is perhaps a bit too simplistic. The problem is that the law, at least in Arizona, fails to distinguish between passive offenders and those who participate actively in the creation or distribution of child porn. I am not prepared to make the categorical statement that all SO's need treatment, not incarceration.

This particular defendant was accused of being a mere possessor of a very minor amount of child porn. Even assuming he was guilty, he did not deserve prison time or lifetime registration as a sex offender.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jan 16, 2007 1:31:58 PM

I am the Arizona State Representative for www.SOhopeful.org/forum and also a Criminal Justice Student at the University of Phoenix and most importantly a mother of a SO. I am very hopeful that the laws can be changed and that the public soon realizes that these kids are not predators and they realize just how easy it is for them to fall victim to these laws! Thank you for this blog! We need to get the word out and expose the real motivation behind the prosecutors.

Posted by: Rhonda | Jan 16, 2007 8:13:14 PM

Marc, the law always needs to make these distinctions. The drug kingpin who imports cocaine and then has a distribution network should certainly be treated differently than the street user. Similarly, one who produces and distributes child pornogrpahy should be treated differently than the one who downloads the same for his/her own personal gratification. For one the motive is likely profit. For the other the motive is self-gratification and prurient interest. It is the latter that cries out for treatment and not incarceration. But, you should know that the law often makes little distinction betwixt the two. The story of the school teacher is, as I said, not atypical in this arena.

Posted by: Bernie Kleinman | Jan 16, 2007 10:20:54 PM

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