Confirmation Hearings Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

In early April of this year, the Senate voted 53-47 to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, breaking one of the most significant remaining racial barriers in American Government. Jackson will become the first black woman to sit on the country’s highest court.

During her Senate confirmation hearings, Justice-designate Jackson was repeatedly questioned about her sentencing record in child pornography cases. The case that garnered the most attention involved an 18-year-old high school senior who admitted to possessing child pornography after officials received tips that he was posting content online. The defendant cooperated with police, admitted possession of the child pornography, and entered a pre-indictment guilty plea.

Before sentencing, the defendant wrote a letter in which he took responsibility for his actions and expressed remorse for possessing the images. At the sentencing hearing, the presiding federal court Judge Jackson stated that the defendant had committed a “very serious, and in many ways, heinous crime”, however went on to impose a lower-than-guideline prison term of three months in prison, followed by three months of home detention and six years of post-release supervision.

Defendant Sentenced To Less Than Guidelines For Possessing Child Pornography

The federal guidelines called for a sentence of eight to 10 years. The U.S. probation officer recommended one and a half years, and the defendant’s attorney asked for a sentence of one day in jail with five years of supervised release. Interestingly, the federal prosecutors only recommended two years.

Senators accused Judge Jackson of being soft on crime because she deviated below the federal sentencing guidelines for child pornography cases. In this case, the court noted that there were sufficient mitigating circumstances that allowed her to deviate downward from the federal sentencing guidelines provided for child porn possession cases. Some of the factors she considered were the closeness in age of the defendant to the victims in the images, acceptance of responsibility, his lack of criminal history, and the fact that the defendant had not engaged in the production of the material.

For reference, here is the federal guidelines sentencing table.


Federal child pornography sentencing table in months of imprisonment based on offense level and criminal history

Child Pornography Under Federal Law

Under Federal Law, child pornography is described as any visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. It can range from pictures, videos, or other digital images.

The guidelines weigh both aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Judges can consider specific offense characteristics to increase or decrease the offense score, such as if:

  • the defendant’s conduct was limited to the receipt or solicitation of material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor;
  • the defendant did not intend to traffic in, or distribute, such material;
  • the age of the minor in the images;
  • the offense involved distribution for pecuniary gain;
  • the offense involved distribution to a minor;
  • the offense involved a certain number range of images ;
  • the defendant only played a minor role in the crime;
  • the defendant clearly demonstrated acceptance of responsibility, and
  • the defendant provided assistance to authorities in the investigation.

In regard to child pornography cases, federal judges, through the implementation of the US Sentencing Guidelines, attempt to distinguish between individuals who merely possess pornographic material, and those who are involved in its creation and distribution.

In Ohio, child pornography cases can be filed either in state or federal courts. When filed in the federal court, the above-noted sentencing guidelines apply. A lawyer who represents an individual must be aware of federal sentencing las and the ways in which a court is likely to reduce a potential sentence so that the best result can be obtained for his client.

Are you under investigation for child pornography? If so, contact Ohio criminal defense lawyer Joe Edwards at 614-309-0243 today.

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