Judge Blasted for Light Child Porn Sentencing
MANHATTAN (CN) - Rebuked by the 2nd Circuit for his compassionate treatment of a child pornography case, a federal judge reluctantly doubled the sentence of a teenage offender.
The 92-year-old U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein has had a longstanding reputation as a maverick of the federal judiciary, both in philosophy and in practice. Early in his tenure, he got off the bench to visit schools for desegregation cases he handled. He took another field trip to a depressed housing project that he believed to have been decimated by the so-called war on drugs.
When teenage Corey Reingold first faced child pornography charges before Weinstein, the Brooklyn judge kept up this tradition by touring Federal Medical Center Devens, a Massachusetts prison dedicated to the rehabilitation of sex offenders. Weinstein initially shielded Reingold's identity by marking the docket with the initials "C.R.," but the appellate court decided to print his name in full after Reuters discovered his name.
Nobody disputed that the FBI found 100 videos and 208 images of explicit and often-violent child pornography on Reingold's computer, after an undercover agent traced his "Boysuck 0414" handle on the file-sharing program GigaTribe to his stepfather's apartment in Queens.
Since GigaTribe users cannot download without sharing files of their own, Reingold was charged with distributing child pornography, a more serious crime than possession that carried a mandatory five-year sentence.
Judge Weinstein, who favors psychological treatment over incarceration for child pornography offenders, pushed for Reingold's attorneys to plead not guilty to that charge, crediting Reingold's testimony that distribution was the passive result of being a GigaTribe user. The judge relented after both parties insisted on avoiding a trial, which would have increased Reingold's sentencing exposure.
Probation recommended at least 14 years imprisonment for Reingold, enhancing his sentence for use of a computer, distribution of the images and a "pattern of abuse." Reingold admitted under a polygraph examination that he coaxed his much-younger sister into three sexual encounters: The first occurred when he was 15 and she was eight, and the last happened when he was 18 and she was 11.
Weinstein called for several days of testimony by psychiatric experts and a tour of FMC Devens before imposing his light sentence, in a whopping 401-page ruling dotted with swaths of transcripts, academic literature, philosophical debate and legal history.
According to that ruling, Reingold's biological mother was a stripper and a cocaine addict, who lost custody of him and then broke almost every promise to visit, as he got older. At age 15, he found his stepmother in bed with family friend, which ended his father's remarriage with the "most important and nurturing person in his life."
Around this time, he picked up his drug, alcohol and child porn habits, the ruling states.
Weinstein argued that a 30-months prison term at FMC Devens would provide enough deterrence for the crime, while providing Reingold psychiatric treatment for rehabilitation. A higher sentence, he believed, would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."
Though uniquely adamant in his views, Weinstein is hardly alone in opposing minimum sentences. He noted in his ruling that a 2001 survey conducted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that 71 percent of judges believed mandatory minimums for receipt of child pornography were too high.
On Thursday, the 2nd Circuit sharply and unanimously disagreed that those sentences violate the Eighth Amendment. In two opinions, the three-judge panel defended tough approaches to the crime and demanded more prison time for Reingold.
"As Congress, courts, and scholars all recognize, child pornography crimes at their core demand the sexual exploitation and abuse of children," according to the lead opinion by Judge Reena Raggi. "Not only are children seriously harmed - physically, emotionally, and mentally - in the process of producing such pornography, but that harm is then exacerbated by the circulation, often for years after the fact, of a graphic record of the child's exploitation and abuse."
Indeed, Weinstein's order acknowledges that sharing child pornography is "not a victim-less crime" because of the "innocent children" abused to produce the "heinous material." The judge argued, however, that light imprisonment would be enough of a deterrent, and a long sentence would hurt rather than help the prospects of rehabilitation.
The circuit found that Weinstein misinterpreted the law to arrive at such a low calculation by refusing to apply the enhancements. He brushed off the computer and distribution additions as "double counting" the original offense, and he declined to raise the sentence for a "pattern of abuse" because Reingold was a minor for two of his encounters with his sister.
Raggi and her colleagues also said Weinstein had been wrong on the law.
"Of Reingold's three sexual contacts with his sister, the last - when he was 18 and she was 11 - appears plainly to qualify," Raggi wrote.
The 50-page lead opinion includes graphic descriptions of Reingold's pornography collection and his encounters with his half-sister.
In a concurring opinion Judge Robert Sack scolded his colleagues for drudging up such "unnecessary and irrelevant detail."
"Suppose the pornographic images were somewhat less graphic than the ones described ... and that [Reingold] never ever so much as touched a female human being other than his mother," Sack posited. "Are we to believe that on any such or vaguely similar facts ... that a five year sentence here did constitute 'cruel and unusual punishment'? I don't think so." (Emphasis in original.)
While Sack agreed with his colleagues on the law, he said that the other judges "risk the appearance of explicitly or implicitly voicing our moral indignation rather than exercising our legal judgment, which is of course our only charge."
Within hours of the ruling, Weinstein responded in a heated memorandum bemoaning what he called the "sometimes unnecessary cruelty of our federal criminal law." After doubling the original sentence, Reingold will likely spend the additional 30 months in a general population, rather than in treatment, the nine-page order states.
"Such a long sentence is unjust," Weinstein wrote. "After release from prison, C.R. will be severely restricted as a convicted sex offender in where, and with whom, he can live, work and recreate for up to life."
Such policies "destroy young lives unnecessarily," Weinstein added, comparing them to child sacrifice condemned in the Old Testament.
"Thou shalt not let any of they [children] pass through the fire to Mohech," Weinstein intoned, quoting Leviticus.
"While awaiting sentence, defendant successfully attended college and worked part-time; he was also undergoing effective intense psychiatric outpatient treatment to insure against any future violation of law," the jeremiad continues. "Credible evidence and expert testimony established that there was no threat of his producing child pornography, viewing it in the future, or acting out in a physical way against any child or other person. ... Nevertheless, the chance for a successful normal life for the defendant will be substantially reduced by the required new sentence."
Weinstein added: "No one who is not perverted or deranged who has seen photographs and videos of child pornography can be anything but horrified by them and by adverse effects on the abused child."
The judge nevertheless reiterated his call for what he described as a "more rational and proportionate" approach to such crimes, as he ordered Reingold to return to court for resentencing.