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Revisiting the 'wisdom' of harsh sentencing in child porn cases

Regular readers will recall a recent blog we posted on the subject of often-flawed conventional wisdom. You might remember this passage: "Take for example people who are convicted of possessing child pornography without ever having any improper sexual contact with a minor. Conventional wisdom says these people should be locked up for years..."

We recently read a Florida newspaper article about a judge south of Orlando who apparently not only hews to conventional wisdom, but also uses it in his harsh sentencing of child pornography offenders.

Two years ago, the judge heard a case involving a 44-year-old man discovered with a vast collection of child porn. The defendant had never been accused of inappropriate contact with a child, and had passed a polygraph indicating that he had no intentions of ever touching a child. He was also deemed "low risk" by a psychologist who evaluates offenders.

Instead of the expected five-year sentence for the defendant, the judge sentenced him to 22 years.

Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeals has unanimously decided the man should be resentenced by a different judge. "Even to the most casual observer, it could not be believed that (the defendant) received a hearing in a dispassionate environment before a fair and impartial judge," the court noted.

As the Tampa Bay Times noted, the judge had implied he would never even consider meting out a less harsh sentence in a child porn case, "regardless of the facts."

Defending those charged with crimes that carry great public scorn is an obligation that criminal defense attorneys undertake. A free society depends upon the protection of all.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Claims of bias in child porn cases arise for Hillsborough Judge Chet Tharpe," Anna M. Phillips, Oct. 4, 2014