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.