As this occurs, the United States Sentencing Commission must keep up by increasing the advisory federal sentencing guidelines for these crimes. With both agencies working together, sentences for child pornography have increased by 500 percent over the course of a fifteen-year timeframe.
In some instances, sentences for first-time offenders may be decades behind prison bars. These convicted offenders may never have touched or abused children previously, and with some of these individuals, there is little chance they would. The guidelines for child pornography sentences are based on specific factors and situations that are not necessarily a reflection of the intent or severity of the crime committed.
Guidelines used for child pornography cases were originally adopted as a political measure in 1991 when the United States Sentencing Commission assigned crimes of possession of child pornography to a level ten. This level ten carries a sentence of six to twelve months in prison. The United States Sentencing Commission reported that Congress instructed it to first raise the level to thirteen without asking for their expertise in the matter. This level holds a sentencing of twelve to eighteen months in prison. Later, Congress again had the agency raise the level to fifteen with a possible sentence of eighteen to 24 months behind bars. Against the advice and experience of the United States Sentencing Commission, Congress again had it raise the offense level in 2004 to what it has been since: a level of eighteen. This current level has a sentencing of 27 to 33 months in prison for possession of child pornography without any other crimes having been committed.
Guidelines and Levels
When the guidelines are in place, this is only the initial point of developing a sentence for a convicted offender. Once the basic levels have been determined, other factors that affect sentencing are added to the time or fines issued to the convicted individual. Many factors added to these sentences have been provided to the United States Sentencing Commission through Congress without any regard as to the agency’s knowledge in these matters. With the added criteria to sentencing, regularly, a convicted individual with only one count of possession of child pornography may accrue a level of 27 or higher. This level has a potential sentencing of 70 to 87 months behind bars. When the increase of levels started from ten to eighteen through Congress based on their directives, it was done so because of a political agenda. No use of the United States Sentencing Commission’s data or national expertise was utilized for these numbers.
How this Affects Others
Because of the seriousness of the crimes dealing with children, many believe that these sentences are appropriate and should remain intact. However, when family or friends discover their friend or loved one faces these charges, they do not feel these guidelines are proper. It is their hope that justice will prevail in a fair manner. They hold that the guidelines used for these cases are the same as for other cases where the possible sentencing is based on expert examination of the claim, study and the content of the case instead of any specific political agenda forced upon the charges. This is how they feel their loved one or friend is treated fairly with a sufficient and proper sentencing without any heightened amount of time added. However, courts are often influenced by victims and the prosecution who want harsher punishments because the crime deals with children.