Judge's Random, Unrelated Rant Against Facebook Leads To Child Porn Sentence Being Overturned

from the wtf? dept

I recognize that there are some people out there who really just don’t like social networking or Twitter or Facebook, but I’m often amazed at how this sometimes leads people to blame other societal woes on those kinds of things. That apparently happened with a judge in a child porn case. The actual case itself sounds somewhat horrifying. A 56-year old woman, Laura Culver, was sentenced to 8 years in prison for collaborating with another person, Edgardo Sensi, to film an 8-year-old girl engaging in sexually explicit content. As I said: horrifying. Assuming all that is true, I’m happy to see them get locked up for a long, long time (in fact, 8 years seems too short).

However, that sentencing has now been sent back to the lower court, because the judge who issued the sentence apparently spent a significant amount of time at the sentencing blaming Facebook for child pornography and attacking Mark Zuckerberg. While the full transcript is sealed (due to the fact that the case involves a minor), the ruling to redo the sentencing includes some details:

In justifying its decision to impose a sentence of eight years instead of six, the district court referenced “Facebook, and things like it, and society has changed.” … The court speculated that the proliferation of Facebook would facilitate an increase in child pornography cases. The court said it hoped Mark Zuckerberg (who founded Facebook) was “enjoying all his money because . . . he’s going to hurt a lot of people . . . .”

Just one problem: the case had nothing to do with Facebook. In fact, it had nothing to do with the internet. And yet the judge claimed that he upped her sentence because of Facebook:

Culver is correct that the court’s lengthy discussion of Facebook had no clear connection to the facts of her case. It is plain error for a district court to rely upon its own unsupported theory of deterrence at sentencing, especially where, as here, that theory has little application to the actual facts of the case itself…. This error undoubtedly affected Culver’s substantial rights; the court stated that it would have granted a sentence of six years if not for its concerns about Facebook and general deterrence. See Sentencing Hr’g Tr. at 42 (“[W]hat we’re looking at is general deterrence, and the general deterrence is very important, and frankly, that’s why I went to eight [years] instead of six.”).

While the government defended the judge’s rant, the appeals court points out that given the lack of any connection to the internet at all in this case, it clearly didn’t make any sense:

The government argues that the district court was merely concerned about the extent to which various new technologies may facilitate child pornography, rather than Facebook specifically. In that sense, Facebook was a reference to the internet, using synecdoche. But the government does not explain (because it cannot) the role of new technology in this case. Culver did not use the internet to commit her crime, and it should not have played a predominant role in her sentencing.

The court further notes that a sentence of 8 years may be entirely appropriate. In fact, it points out that this is below the minimum sentencing guidelines, though it sounds like the court gave Culver a “lower” sentence for cooperating against Sensi, but still notes that the “particularly abhorrent” nature of her crime may still mean that the eventual sentence (or even more) is appropriate, but “that discretion should be exercised without the influence of procedural error.”

Indeed. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the judge in question, Warren Eginton, appears to be nearing 90 years old, which may explains some of his misplaced hatred for things like Facebook.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: facebook

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Judge's Random, Unrelated Rant Against Facebook Leads To Child Porn Sentence Being Overturned”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
58 Comments
R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

On topic: As long as you can do the job you shouldn’t be forced to retire. If this judge is found to be incapable of performing his duties then maybe he should be removed, otherwise, his age should have nothing to do with it.

Slightly off topic: Please don’t correct other people’s spelling with incorrect spelling of your own. It’s spelled ‘ageism’.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It amazes me that people have no problem with
agism, as long is it affects someone else.

It’s hardly ageism to note that virtually every other profession (other than the self-employed) have mandatory retirement ages, yet for some reason we let judges sit up on the bench making decisions with far-reaching impact on both individuals and society in general until they keel over in their robes.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

i guess you could say I have an issue with old farts who dont understand todays society and technology being in a position to rule on cases and laws where such knowledge is of great import…..this case is a good example of a judge thats is not only old but, clearly a technophobe/troglodyte, his rant does a good job proving to me that he shouldnt be ruling on cases in this day and age…..

not all old people are like this, and some young people are….hell, for all the fun people made of ted stevens, at least he tried and at least he got that net neutrality was important….

Vic B (profile) says:

Re: Re: Agism...Really?

Of course there should be a mandatory retirement age for lots of professions! Be it based on age or motor/psych evaluation doesn’t matter but why should businesses be burdened by individuals living their retirements at work? At my job there are several guys in their late 60’s who can’t be let go for fear of getting sued for age discrimination and yet aren’t able to keep up with the speed of change, from computer to smartphone usage to simple drive to get things done. I say let them go and rehire them as consultants when there’s a specific need for their experience and let new blood in the workforce!

out_of_the_blue says:

Substitute one word, and is apt for Mike's mania:

I recognize that there are some people out there who really just don’t like copyright, but I’m often amazed at how this sometimes leads people to blame other societal woes on those kinds of things.

And I think it’s obvious that this item ALSO fits into Mike’s pro-Facebook, pro-Zuckerberg template — otherwise, it’s got no relation to tech, is just a legal anomaly that’ll soon be corrected.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Substitute one word, and is apt for Mike's mania:

Consider that there are plenty of reasons not to like (excessive) copyright without resorting to other societal woes.

I didn’t think it pro-Facebook or pro-Zuckerberg (did you read the article?). I thought it about the ignorance and biases of a judge, and injecting his ignorance into a sentencing. While I agree with his longer sentence, he should have used rational reasons to support it.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ditto

I am older than you, have always and continue to embrace technology, yet I also have no love for Facebook.

Forget the magic number for Facebook. Imagine what a graph would look like showing the use of all sorts of new technologies (even early automobiles, or telephones) by age — and perhaps newness of the technology.

There may be other reasons people like or dislike Facebook, regardless of age. More generally, look at things the judge is actually ranting at. “Facebook and things like it, and society has changed”. That shows he cannot clearly articulate what he is complaining about, despite judges presumably being skilled at using language.

The judge clearly has an anti technology bias that is age related. That is not ageist. That is just obvious about this particular individual.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ditto

I like Facebook (for the most part anyway), and I’m 38 in a few weeks. Age has nothing to do with it, unless the reasons for dislike involve a general lack of understanding of technology or a fear of the new, in which case those reasons tend to be more prevalent among older folk. Either way, each to their own – unless you try to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be using, in which case we have an issue.

As for the judge’s age, I think it is relevant to some degree. He seems to be harbouring a misplaced hatred for a service that didn’t exist until he was 80 years old, and wasn’t available to the general public until he was 82. It’s not exactly misplaced to believe that his age might have something to do with his fear of this technology, or his apparently lack of understanding of its usage or relevance to the cases in front of him.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Ditto

I like Facebook (for the most part anyway), and I’m 38 in a few weeks. Age has nothing to do with it

Come now, you know the whole data/anecdote thing! Age has a great deal to do with social networking use:

http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/March/Pew-Internet-Social-Networking-full-detail.aspx

No other factor they studied (race, sex, income, education, urbanity) had as big a correlation with social network use as age.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Ditto

That might explain usage perhaps, but dislike or even hatred of Facebook specifically? There’s a difference between choosing not to use a service and being opposed to it in any way (I, for example, have never really seen the appeal of Pinterest, but I don’t begrudge either that service or others who use it). In that study, I also wonder if they looked at regular usage vs. occasional usage – e.g., I know many people who would say they use Facebook, but some are daily users and others log in a couple of times a month at most. Hardly the same thing. It’s also worth noting that the lower usage for older demographics on the report are for social networking as a whole, whereas the criticism above is solely regarding one network, singled out against all others.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Ditto

That might explain usage perhaps, but dislike or even hatred of Facebook specifically?

Yeah I have no idea, I doubt if anyone has studied that.

In that study, I also wonder if they looked at regular usage vs. occasional usage

Don’t know, but I’d bet somebody has.

It’s also worth noting that the lower usage for older demographics on the report are for social networking as a whole, whereas the criticism above is solely regarding one network, singled out against all others.

Actually I think he said Facebook and things like it. So FB was the only one named but not intended as the only target of his judicial wrath.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nice dig there anonymous coward. You are just too cold for this world.

While not all old people are out of touch with present day society and culture, many are.

When it becomes manifestly obvious that an old judge injects irrational biases into a sentencing, I don’t think it is ageist to raise the question of being out of touch due to age. These particular biases are clearly age based. Young people use these new technologies disproportionally more than old people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: News flash

No. Child rapist does not go free. Child pornographer gets re-sentenced by a judge who will hopefully judge her based on what she actually did – which did not involve Facebook or even the Internet – and may well give her MORE time. Her conviction was not overturned, and she’s not going to get probation for this.

Anonymous Coward says:

what this shows, yet again, is that those that hold positions whereby they can influence the lives of others to a substantial degree are at ages where they have no grasp of the world in which we live. the technology today is beyond the comprehension of many of them, yet they still hold positions such as here. those in Congress are the same, as are those in execs positions in industry. the majority have no idea how things work and have others do the work for them, essentially making them ‘heads in name only’! that leads to the opinions etc of others being expressed under someone else name. what needs to happen is all those over 60-65 years should be forced to retire before complete fuck ups are made. oh damn! too late!!

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the appeals court got this right. Have the woman be re-sentenced by a judge who is going to go by what the person did and not what they think someone else using Facebook will do.

According to the appeals court, “An eight-year sentence was still a twenty percent reduction below the bottom of the recommended Guidelines range.” Which means she very well may get ten years, instead of eight, when she’s re-sentenced.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Who give a fuck why the judge upped her sentence?”

Some of us case about due process.

“I wouldn’t care if the judge increased her sentence because he didn’t like her shoes.”

Perhaps you wouldn’t care if he increased HER sentence. But what if he was upping YOUR sentence for an invalid reason? Or the sentence of some poor guy arrested for changing his MAC address in a closet? Nah, THAT could never happen…

Justice should be demanded in ALL cases, not just the ones where we like the defendant.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Who give a fuck why the judge upped her sentence?

Anyone who cares about rule of law cares deeply about why judges make their rulings. That we all might agree with the result doesn’t mean we should ignore problems with how the result was obtained.

I wouldn’t care if the judge increased her sentence because he didn’t like her shoes.

You might not care about justice, but I (and I hope most people) do.

nasch (profile) says:

Cruel and unusual?

This error undoubtedly affected Culver?s substantial rights; the court stated that it would have granted a sentence of six years if not for its concerns about Facebook and general deterrence. See Sentencing Hr?g Tr. at 42 (?[W]hat we?re looking at is general deterrence, and the general deterrence is very important, and frankly, that?s why I went to eight [years] instead of six.?).

Hasn’t it been found unconstitutional to give someone a harsher sentence in order to make an example of them as a deterrent?

Artiewhitefox says:

We are all under the sentence of death.

We are all under the sentence of death. That is what it means when the KJV bible says all have sinned falling short of the kingdom of God. How can a person who has fallen short of the kingdom of God do to another what God alone does? Gods light alone gives wrath. In a body that dies give wrath arresting condemning see Gods light as wrath.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...