Supreme Court Grants Petition Filed by College of Law Professor Paul Cassell

June 27, 2013  The United States Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a case brought by University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Paul Cassell concerning restitution for victims of child pornography crimes. The Court agreed to decide the issue of whether such victims can obtain restitution for all of their losses from one defendant or whether they must pursue efforts to obtain restitution from hundreds of defendants.  Professor Cassell will argue the issue before the Court next January.

The case arises out of a 2009 criminal conviction of Doyle Randall Paroline in federal court in Texas for possessing child pornography. Among the images that Paroline possessed were pictures of “Amy.” (She uses a pseudonym in court actions to protect her privacy.) Amy was repeatedly raped by her uncle, who photographed the abuse to produce child pornography. The resulting images are among the most widely disseminated photographs of sexual abuse in the world. As a result of these crimes, Amy has substantial expenses for lifetime psychological counseling. She has sought restitution in criminal prosecutions around the country, arguing that victims like herself should be able to collect all of their expenses from any one defendant, rather than having to collect them in tiny increments from hundreds defendants who have been convicted of collecting their images.

The lower courts have reached conflicting results on this issue. Last fall, Cassell won a victory before 15 judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (based in New Orleans, Louisiana), which held that Congress intended to hold child pornography defendants jointly and severally liable for all of the losses that they caused.  (Click here to read the opinion.) The Fifth Circuit remanded to the district court with instructions that it should order Paroline to pay restitution for all of Amy’s losses. But also last fall, Cassell lost a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (based in San Francisco, California), which held that victims of child pornography crimes are only entitled to collect from defendant that specific part of their losses that a defendant proximately caused. (Click here to read the opinion.) The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the Fifth Circuit while acknowledging that its interpretation of federal restitution laws will impose “serious obstacles” for victims trying to obtain full compensation for their losses.

Paroline petitioned the Court to settle this conflict and to review the Fifth Circuit’s decision, and today the Supreme Court agreed to do so. Cassell had urged the Court to take the case for review and will argue in defense of the Fifth Circuit’s ruling early next year.

Cassell and James R. Marsh of the Marsh Law Firm in White Plains, New York represent Amy. Carol L. Hepburn, of Carol L. Hepburn PS in Seattle, Washington has also been involved in representing the position of child pornography victims.

Amy was happy to have the Court review the case: “The Court’s decision means so much to me because now everything I have gone through—being everywhere on the Internet all over the world—isn’t for nothing. Now others like me who have gone through horrific traumas, and are still going through horrific traumas, can show the public that awful things like this do happen. That we are people, just like them, who deserve to have our day in court. I want this case to help other victims realize that they are not alone. That something can and will be done about their pain and suffering, and that they do not have to be afraid. This case could have a positive impact on so many people. I hope we can convince the justices that victims deserve restitution from everyone who collects pictures of their abuse.”

Cassell commented:  “I am looking forward to convincing the Supreme Court that victims of serious child pornography crimes are entitled to hold every defendant accountable for all of the losses that their victims suffer.” Cassell also noted that this is an historic one for the crime victims’ rights movement:  This case will be the first time that a crime victim’s attorney has argued before the United States Supreme Court (rather than a prosecutor or defense attorney bringing the case).

Cassell is handling the case along with students working in the Utah Appellate Clinic, a program at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law that provides an opportunity for law students to work on real world litigation and improve their legal skills. The program is directed by Professor Troy Booher. Click here to read more about one student’s experiences in the Appellate Clinic.

Cassell and his students will now work alongside Marsh and Hepburn in filing briefs in the Supreme Court before next January’s argument.

For further information on this case, please contact:

Professor Paul Cassell

James R. Marsh

Carol Hepburn

For more background about the victims Amy and Vicky, read the New York Times profile here.