Should Mere Possession of Child Pornography Mean Decades in Prison?

If someone has downloaded pornographic images of children, should they automatically go to prison? For how long? Is mere possession of child pornography sufficient reason to send someone to prison for decades, even if the suspect never touched a child? A few years ago a Payson man received 90 years in prison for merely possessing child pornography, for which the sentencing judge called the sentence “clearly excessive”, but had no choice because of mandatory sentencing laws. Another man, a Gulf War veteran, received a five year sentence from Judge Derek Carlisle in Mohave County.

I know that some people who read this post will have the visceral reaction that of course, if you someone has child pornography, put them in prison and throw away the key. Or even better, put them on a desert island and and forget about them. To those people, this blog is not for you, and if you feel the overwhelming desire to vent your self-righteous frustration, find another forum. This blog is for people who can actual consider actions and consequence, and who do not seek every chance to validate their own self-congratulatory moral superiority.

In some states, merely possessing child pornography is a misdemeanor, but in Arizona it is a felony with a minimum sentence of 10 years for each count. Arizona’s statutory scheme is even more severe than the notoriously harsh and rigid federal sentencing guidelines. The mandatory minimum in federal court is five years, or half what Arizona requires. But is either right?

According to the not so liberal Wall Street Journal, some federal judges do not believe mere possessors of child pornography are an actual threat and that the Congressional mandatory minimums are excessive. In fact, they are nothing more than puritanism in the guise of public safety. The important point here is that there are cases in which there is absolutely no reason to think the suspects actually ever touched a child, only that they possessed images.

Certainly, the point of these judges is not that possessing child pornography is tasteful or laudable, just that automatically handing out decades in prison for mere possession is vindictive. And such vindictiveness has no place in a democractic and thoughtful America.