Paroline v. United States

Citation134 S.Ct. 1710,572 U.S. 434,188 L.Ed.2d 714
Decision Date23 April 2014
Docket NumberNo. 12–8561.,12–8561.
Parties Doyle Randall PAROLINE, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES, et al.
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

572 U.S. 434
134 S.Ct. 1710
188 L.Ed.2d 714

Doyle Randall PAROLINE, Petitioner,

No. 12–8561.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Jan. 22, 2014.
Decided April 23, 2014.

Stanley G. Schneider, Houston, TX, for the Petitioner.

Michael R. Dreeben, Washington, D.C., for the United States.

Paul G. Cassell, Salt Lake City, UT, for respondent Amy Unknown.

James R. Marsh, Marsh Law Firm PLLC, White Plains, NY, Paul G. Cassell, Michael J. Teter, Appellate Legal Clinic, Salt Lake City, UT, for Respondent Amy.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Washington, D.C., for United States.

Robin E. Schulberg, Robin E. Schulberg, LLC, Covington, LA, Virginia Laughlin Schlueter, Federal Public Defender, Eastern District of Louisiana, Roma Ajubita Kent, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Jordan Mark Siverd, Assistant Federal Public Defender, New Orleans, LA, for Respondent Michael Wright.

Stanley G. Schneider, Thomas D. Moran, Schneider & McKinney, P.C., Houston, TX, F.R. "Buck" Files, Jr., Bain, Files, Jarrett, Bain, & Harrison, P.C., Tyler, TX, Casie L. Gotro, Romy B. Kaplan, Houston, TX, for Petitioner.

Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

572 U.S. 439

This case presents the question of how to determine the amount of restitution a possessor of child pornography must pay to the victim whose childhood abuse appears in the pornographic materials possessed. The relevant statutory provisions are set forth at 18 U.S.C. § 2259. Enacted as a component of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, § 2259 requires district courts to award restitution for certain federal criminal offenses, including child-pornography possession.

Petitioner Doyle Randall Paroline pleaded guilty to such an offense. He admitted to possessing between 150 and 300 images of child pornography, which included two that depicted the sexual exploitation of a young girl, now a young woman, who goes by the pseudonym "Amy" for this litigation. The question is what causal relationship must be established between the defendant's conduct and a victim's losses for purposes of determining the right to, and the amount of, restitution under § 2259.


Three decades ago, this Court observed that "the exploitive use of children in the production of pornography has become a serious national problem." New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747, 749, 102 S.Ct. 3348, 73 L.Ed.2d 1113 (1982). The demand for child pornography harms children in part because it drives production, which

572 U.S. 440

involves child abuse. The harms caused by child pornography, however, are still more

134 S.Ct. 1717

extensive because child pornography is "a permanent record" of the depicted child's abuse, and "the harm to the child is exacerbated by [its] circulation." Id., at 759, 102 S.Ct. 3348. Because child pornography is now traded with ease on the Internet, "the number of still images and videos memorializing the sexual assault and other sexual exploitation of children, many very young in age, has grown exponentially." United States Sentencing Comm'n, P. Saris et al., Federal Child Pornography Offenses 3 (2012) (hereinafter Sentencing Comm'n Report).

One person whose story illustrates the devastating harm caused by child pornography is the respondent victim in this case. When she was eight and nine years old, she was sexually abused by her uncle in order to produce child pornography. Her uncle was prosecuted, required to pay about $6,000 in restitution, and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. The victim underwent an initial course of therapy beginning in 1998 and continuing into 1999. By the end of this period, her therapist's notes reported that she was " 'back to normal' "; her involvement in dance and other age-appropriate activities, and the support of her family, justified an optimistic assessment. App. 70–71. Her functioning appeared to decline in her teenage years, however; and a major blow to her recovery came when, at the age of 17, she learned that images of her abuse were being trafficked on the Internet. Id., at 71. The digital images were available nationwide and no doubt worldwide. Though the exact scale of the trade in her images is unknown, the possessors to date easily number in the thousands. The knowledge that her images were circulated far and wide renewed the victim's trauma and made it difficult for her to recover from her abuse. As she explained in a victim impact statement submitted to the District Court in this case:

"Every day of my life I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognize me and that I
572 U.S. 441
will be humiliated all over again. It hurts me to know someone is looking at them—at me—when I was just a little girl being abused for the camera. I did not choose to be there, but now I am there forever in pictures that people are using to do sick things. I want it all erased. I want it all stopped. But I am powerless to stop it just like I was powerless to stop my uncle.... My life and my feelings are worse now because the crime has never really stopped and will never really stop.... It's like I am being abused over and over and over again." Id ., at 60–61.

The victim says in her statement that her fear and trauma make it difficult for her to trust others or to feel that she has control over what happens to her. Id., at 63.

The full extent of this victim's suffering is hard to grasp. Her abuser took away her childhood, her self-conception of her innocence, and her freedom from the kind of nightmares and memories that most others will never know. These crimes were compounded by the distribution of images of her abuser's horrific acts, which meant the wrongs inflicted upon her were in effect repeated; for she knew her humiliation and hurt were and would be renewed into the future as an ever-increasing number of wrongdoers witnessed the crimes committed against her.

Petitioner Paroline is one of the individuals who possessed this victim's images. In 2009, he pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of possession of material involving the sexual exploitation of children in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252. 672 F.Supp.2d 781, 783 (E.D.Tex.2009). Paroline admitted to knowing possession of between 150 and

134 S.Ct. 1718

300 images of child pornography, two of which depicted the respondent victim. Ibid. The victim sought restitution under § 2259, asking for close to $3.4 million, consisting of nearly $3 million in lost income and about $500,000 in future treatment and counseling costs. App. 52, 104. She also sought attorney's fees and costs. 672 F.Supp.2d, at 783.

572 U.S. 442

The parties submitted competing expert reports. They stipulated that the victim did not know who Paroline was and that none of her claimed losses flowed from any specific knowledge about him or his offense conduct. Id., at 792, and n. 11; App. 230.

After briefing and hearings, the District Court declined to award restitution. 672 F.Supp.2d, at 793. The District Court observed that "everyone involved with child pornography—from the abusers and producers to the end-users and possessors—contribute[s] to [the victim's] ongoing harm." Id., at 792. But it concluded that the Government had the burden of proving the amount of the victim's losses "directly produced by Paroline that would not have occurred without his possession of her images." Id., at 791. The District Court found that, under this standard, the Government had failed to meet its burden of proving what losses, if any, were proximately caused by Paroline's offense. It thus held that "an award of restitution is not appropriate in this case." Id., at 793.

The victim sought a writ of mandamus, asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to direct the District Court to order Paroline to pay restitution in the amount requested. In re Amy, 591 F.3d 792, 793 (2009). The Court of Appeals denied relief. Id., at 795. The victim sought rehearing. Her rehearing request was granted, as was her petition for a writ of mandamus. In re Amy Unknown, 636 F.3d 190, 201 (2011).

The Fifth Circuit reheard the case en banc along with another case, in which the defendant, Michael Wright, had raised similar issues in appealing an order of restitution under § 2259, see United States v. Wright, 639 F.3d 679, 681 (2011) (per curiam ). As relevant, the Court of Appeals set out to determine the level of proof required to award restitution to victims in cases like this. It held that § 2259 did not limit restitution to losses proximately caused by the defendant, and each defendant who possessed the victim's images

572 U.S. 443

should be made liable for the victim's entire losses from the trade in her images, even though other offenders played a role in causing those losses. In re Amy Unknown, 701 F.3d 749, 772–774 (2012) (en banc).

Paroline sought review here. Certiorari was granted to resolve a conflict in the Courts of Appeals over the proper causation inquiry for purposes of...

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