Paroline v. United States

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Paroline v. United States is a U.S. Supreme Court case, decided 23 April 2014, in which the Court ruled that restitution is proper under 18 U.S.C. § 2259 only to the extent the defendant's child pornography offense proximately caused a victim's losses. The respondent victim in that 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, which included two of the 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 declined to award restitution, concluding that the Government had not met its burden of proving what losses, if any, were proximately caused by Paroline’s offense. The victim sought a writ of mandamus, asking the Fifth Circuit to direct the District Court to order Paroline to pay restitution. Granting the writ on rehearing en banc, the Fifth Circuit held, inter alia, that §2259 did not limit restitution to losses proximately caused by the defendant, and that each defendant who possessed the victim’s images should be made liable for the victim’s entire losses from the trade in her images.

According to The New York Times:[1]

Back in April 1998, in one of the first investigations into Internet trafficking of child pornography, the F.B.I. started tracking an AOL user, with the handle HAZMAT029, who was posting on an AOL bulletin board service. HAZMAT029 sent 80 illegal pictures to another user, BMR169, along with e-mails that included the message: “do me a favor. get a peice [sic] of paper and wright HI HAZ on it and take a pic of her in nothing but stockings pulled down below her [genitals].” BMR169 e-mailed back pictures of a young girl, her shorts and underwear pulled to the side, sitting on a gray carpet in front of a wooden dresser. Next to her, a note read, “HI HAZ.” . . . .

Amy, as she’s called in the court documents, was BMR’s 9-year-old niece. Shown sanitized versions of the pictures, Amy denied that her uncle had abused her. She said he told her she was special and took her to buy treats like beef jerky, and she didn’t want anything bad to happen to him. “How is he?” she asked her parents in the weeks after his arrest. “Is he going to be mad at me?”


  1. Bazelon, Emily (24 January 2013). The Price of a Stolen Childhood. New York Times.

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