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Law School Case Brief

Paroline v. United States - 572 U.S. 434, 134 S. Ct. 1710 (2014)

Rule:

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 18 U.S.C.S. § 2259 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.

Facts:

The respondent victim in this case was sexually abused as a young girl in order to produce child pornography. When she was 17, she learned that images of her abuse were being trafficked on the Internet, in effect repeating the original wrongs, for she knew that her humiliation and hurt would be renewed well into the future as thousands of additional wrongdoers witnessed those crimes. Petitioner Paroline pleaded guilty in federal court to possessing images of child pornography, two of which were depicting respondent victim, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252. The victim then sought restitution under § 2259, requesting nearly $3 million in lost income and about $500,000 in future treatment and counseling costs. The district court denied restitution under 18 U.S.C. § 2259 to a victim because the government failed to show what losses were proximately caused by defendant. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded that defendant was liable for the victim's entire losses from the trade in her images. Defendant filed a petition for certiorari before the Court.

Issue:

Was the award of restitution against the defendant for full amount of losses to the victim proper?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the defendant was liable for restitution only for the portion that was comported to his relative role that caused the damage to the victim. Restitution is proper under §2259 only to the extent the defendant's offense proximately caused a victim's losses. victims should be compensated, and defendants should be held to account for the impact of their conduct on those victims, but defendants should only be made liable for the consequences and gravity of their own conduct, not the conduct of others. The Court resolved that the showing of but-for causation was not the proper standard here, for it is not possible to prove that the victim's losses would be less but for one possessor's individual role in the large, loosely connected network through which her images circulate. where it was impossible to trace a particular amount of those losses to the individual defendant by recourse to a more traditional causal inquiry, a court applying § 2259 should order restitution in an amount that comported with defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlay the victim’s general losses. The Court vacated the appealed decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. On remand, the Court ordered the district court was to assess as best it could from available evidence the significance of defendant’s conduct in light of the broader causal process that produced the victim’s losses.

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