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Friday Roundup

More on child porn sentencing.  I was scheduled to start a civil trial a couple weeks back, but when I got to the courtroom, I found three TV cameras and assorted journalists in the jury box.  They weren't for me or my case, of course; they were for the sentencing of Robert Bonness, a retired Cleveland policeman who'd been charged with attempted rape and child porn.  He'd contacted someone on Craigslist who'd offered his 12-year-old daughter for "services."  Of course, there was no 12-year-old daughter; when Bonness showed up at the hotel for the assignation, he was arrested.  Cops found dildoes, vibrators, and several sexual accoutrements in his car, and he told the police they could find plenty of child porn on his computer at home.  They did.

The sentencing took about an hour.  Bonness had done several things to further hurt his cause.  (As if trying to hook up with a 12-year-old, telling the "father" that he wanted a girl "who swallowed," wasn't bad enough.)  One was using his position as a cop.  Limewire is a computer file-sharing program which is commonly utilized by child porn users to swap files; Bonness found out about it after helping in a raid on another porn user's computer, and later downloaded and installed the program on his own computer.  He'd also apparently used his police training to surveil the hotel parking lot.  Then there was the little touch of using his badge number as part of his email address. 

Another problem was the whole responsibility thing.  Bonness' presentence report contained his statement that he felt like he'd been a fish in Lake Erie minding his own business when somebody dropped in a hook with a big worm, obviously reference to the fake Craigslist ad.  He'd also apologized profusely for allowing his "curiosity" to get the better of him.

Well, I'm sorry.  I consider myself a reasonably curious person, but that has never extended to wondering what it would be like to watch sex acts involving six-year-0lds.  And the few times I've used Craigslist, I don't remember seeing an ad offering the sexual services of a twelve-year old girl, but I'm pretty sure if I had I wouldn't have regarded that as an enticement.

Still, there was an air of Kabuki theater as the participants performed their respective roles.  The defense attorney made an eloquent plea for leniency, the prosecutor spared no effort in informing the judge and the assembled television cameras of the depth of the community's outrage, and the judge imposed the 52½ sentence with the appropriate degree of solemnity.  To a certain extent, it was an exercise in pointlessness; for a 53-year-old former cop convicted of a child sex offense, anything over fifteen years was likely to be a death sentence. 

Child porn still presents one of the troubling areas of sentencing law, as I'd mentioned in a previous post.  The Federal sentencing guidelines on the subject have come under withering criticism, including a detailed study by Federal public defender Troy Stabenow, who argues that the guidelines have no empirical basis.  (His paper can be found here.)  The 11th Circuit rejected that argument last week in US v. Dean, noting a distinction between downloaders and producers; in that case, they affirmed a 30-year prison term for someone who made videos of him sexually abusing his stepdaughter and then shared them with others on the Internet.  And US District Judge Jack Weinstein has prepared a draft of an opinion arguing that a 5-year sentence for a 19-year-old accused of downloading child porn would be cruel and unusual punishment, and is instead proposing a sentence half that.

By the way, don't expect to read a recap of the judge's opinion here.  The draft is 420 pages.

Can I have another helping of dead flesh, please?  You can't blame meat producers for being a little skittish.  Books like Fast Food Nation and Food, Inc. highlight not only the concerns over how our meat-laden diet makes us fatter, but how it poisons our environment as well.  Videos made by groups like PETA abound on the Internet, documenting the often horrific conditions under which chicken and cattle are raised by factory farms.  The percent of the population that regards itself as vegetarian is still only 3%, but that's tripled in the past twenty years.

So what's a poor farmer to do?  Well, you can always sue:  at least thirteen states have passed "agricultural product disparagement laws."  They were used in the famous suit against Oprah Winfrey by some Texas cattle producers back in 1996 when one of her guests warned of the possibility of mad cow disease spreading from England to this country.  And you can try to keep those pesky bleeding-heart do-gooders from interfering in your operations by pre-empting them, like Ohio did in 2009, when our citizens deemed it appropriate to pass a constitutional amendment creating something called the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which was tasked with the chore of... well, creating standards of care for livestock.  The real purpose was explained by David Martosko, head of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a front group for various business interests, who argued that the board was necessary to ward off the threat that the Humane Society -- which, according to Martosko, is "basically PETA with a nicer wristwatch" -- poses to the agricultural community. 

But Florida recently decided to up the ante considerably:  a bill has been recently introduced there which provides that

A person who photographs, video records or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner, commits a felony of the first degree.

Whoa!  That means if I happen to be driving down I-95 behind someone with blue hair, twenty miles below the speed limit, and I decide to lean out the window and take a picture of Old McDonald's Farm, I can do up to 30 years in prison.  The offered justification?  To protect farmers "intellectual property," and, more particularly, to keep people from making those videos which keep cropping up -- no pun intended -- on the Internet.

It should be noted that the sentence for violation of this statute is longer than the one that could be imposed for manslaughter.  Which one could be convicted of, for example, by bludgeoning a slow-moving driver.


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