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Fourth Circuit judge recognizes the harshness and fallibility of the child pornography possession sentencing guidelines

Apr 06, 2015 Fourth Circuit judge recognizes the harshness and fallibility of the child pornography possession sentencing guidelines

With no prior convictions, on a federal court guilty plea to one count of child pornography, Steven Helton received a five year prison term and lifetime probation. U.S. v. Helton, ___ F.3d ___ (April 2, 2015). Helton could have fared much worse at trial, based on the multiple child pornography counts that he faced, in addition to the hundreds of child pornography images, multiple images of prepubescent children, and multiple sadomasochistic images of children for which the sentencing judge found him responsible.

On April 2, 2015, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Helton’s sentence, including his lifetime of probation that not only requires the twenty-one-year-old Helton to be supervised by a probation agent for the rest of his life, but also bans cellphones with Internet access (do such cellphones exist any longer?).

Praised be  concurring Circuit Court Judge Gregory, who warns "against undue deference to what are only advisory Guidelines."  Judge Gregory continues: "When we begin to accept these Guidelines as irrefutable truths, we tend to give ourselves to over generalizations like that made by the majority when it writes: ‘It would be almost unprecedented to credit a defendant’s challenge to a sentence as substantively unreasonable when the district court actually reduced the term of imprisonment below the recommended Guidelines range.’ To the contrary, it can be unreasonable for a twenty-one year old with no prior criminal convictions to spend five years in prison even when the Guidelines advocate for a minimum term of six and a half years." Well said.

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