What is it about pornography that drives sane people crazy? And by "people," I mean law enforcement agents, legislators, and judges, in particular. This week the Supreme Court turned down an appeal from an Arizona man who was sentenced to a mandatory 200 years in prison merely for downloading child porn. Morton Berger was prosecuted for 20 seperate counts of sexual exploitation of a minor for possessing (and by possessing, they mean downloading) 20 images of child porn (and by child porn, they mean "any visial depiction in which a minor is enagged in exploitative exhibition or other sexual conduct.") Arizona law treats possession of each image as a seperate felony punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, without parole; the law also requires that sentences for posession be served consequently.
So all the trial court had to do in this case was the math; the legislature left it no discretion to impose a sensible lesser sentence on Mr. Berger, a 57-year-old first offender now doomed to spend the rest of his life in prison for looking at 20 dirty pictures. The Arizona Court of Appeals, however, did have discretion to strike down this horrific sentence under the 8th Amendment's prohibiton of cruel and unusual punishment; but it managed not to do so, partly by focusing on each sentence of 10 years instead of the culmulative sentence of 200 years. The Supreme Court, which had previously upheld a 25 year to life sentence imposed on a repeat offender for stealing three golf clubs, was apparently unmoved by Mr. Berger's plight or its obligations to enforce the 8th Amendment, which now seems merely horatory.
Meanwhile, in Connecticut, substitute teacher Julie Amero is awaiting sentencing for her conviction for risking injury to a child by exposing students in her middle school class to images of pornography on the web. She could receive a 40 year prison sentence. (Update: On June 6, 2007, Amero was granted a new trial.) Amero, who described herself as technophobic, claimed that the class computer was bombarded by ads for porn sites that she was unable to control. Students testified that she tried to keep them away from the presumptively injurious images, not entirely successfully.
The children have not been turned to salt yet by viewing pornography; but grown-ups' minds are turned to mush merely by the thought of it.