23 April 2014

Law in Plain English: Paroline v. United States

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogParoline v. United States

News

Argument: Jan 22 2014 (Aud.)

Does the "proximate result" requirement in § 2259(b)(3)(F) apply to all losses under § 2259(b)(3)?

§ 2259(b)(3):
Definition.— For purposes of this subsection, the term “full amount of the victim’s losses” includes any costs incurred by the victim for—
(A) medical services relating to physical, psychiatric, or psychological care;
(B) physical and occupational therapy or rehabilitation;
(C) necessary transportation, temporary housing, and child care expenses;
(D) lost income;
(E) attorneys’ fees, as well as other costs incurred; and
(F) any other losses suffered by the victim as a proximate result of the offense. 

Discussion: Doyle Paroline ("Paroline") pled guilty to 18 U.S.C. § 2252 for possessing 150 to 300 images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. At least two images were of Amy. Pursuant to Amy's right to restitution under the Crime Victims' Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771, the Government and Amy moved the district court to order restitution under § 2259. The district court held that § 2259 required the Government to prove that by possessing images depicting Amy's sexual abuse, Paroline proximately caused the injuries for which she sought restitution. Concluding that the Government failed to show this causal link, the district court denied Amy restitution. On Appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that § 2259 imposes no generalized proximate cause requirement before a child pornography victim may recover restitution from a defendant possessing images of her abuse; and thus vacated the the district court's judgment.

Issue: The question before the Court is, what, if any, causal relationship or nexus between the defendant's conduct and the victim's harm or damages must the government or the victim establish in order to recover restitution under § 2259?

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that restitution is proper under the statute only to the extent that the defendant's offense proximately caused a victim's losses.
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