WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 to uphold a stiff federal law that makes it a crime to promote, distribute or solicit child pornography, even when the material is not actually porn.
Violations of the 2003 law face a minimum five-year prison sentence up to a maximum 20-year sentence.
The ruling gives prosecutors a powerful weapon for nabbing pedophiles who previously evaded conviction because the child-pornography law only covered material that had been proved to feature actual children.
The proliferation of child pornography on the Internet made it nearly impossible to prove that a certain image featured a real child, rather than a digital rendering of one, though the court said the prohibitive cost of virtual imaging makes it unlikely that “any of the child pornography images being trafficked today were made other than by the abuse of real children.”
Instead of targeting the underlying material, the new law “bans collateral speech that introduces such material into the child-pornography distribution network,” Justice Scalia wrote for the majority.
Michael Williams claimed the law violated his free-speech rights. He was convicted of pandering child porn after he posted a message in an Internet chat room that said, “Dad of toddler has ‘good’ pics of her an (sic) me for swap of your toddler pics, or live cam.”
A Secret Service agent, posing under the screen name “Lisa n Miami,” responded to the offer and swapped non-pornographic photos of children with Williams. The defendant then told the agent that he had photos of men molesting his 4-year-old daughter, but withdrew his offer as he grew increasingly suspicious that he was dealing with a law-enforcement agent. Williams posted a link to a site containing actual child pornography and announced to the chat room, “Here room: I can put uplink (sic) cuz I’m for real – she can’t.”
The Secret Service obtained a warrant to search Williams home and found at least 22 images of child porn on his computer hard drives.
Williams pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography and one count of pandering child pornography, but reserved the right to appeal the pandering conviction.
The high court rejected his later appeal, ruling that “offers to provide or requests to obtain child pornography are categorically excluded from the First Amendment.”
Justices Souter and Ginsburg dissented.