And if you're a child porn offender in Pennsylvania, it appears that you should want to be prosecuted in state court.
This lengthy but excellent article in the Wilkes-Barre, PA Times Leader, explains why by telling a tale of two cases: one state defendant sentenced for possessing 507 child porn images, and one federal defendant sentenced for possessing 279 similar images.
Guess who got the longer sentence? The man convicted in state court (for more images) got nine to 23 months in prison. The man convicted in federal court (for fewer images) got 11 years.
And who controls whether a case stays in state court or goes to federal court? Federal prosecutors. And the decision to move a case into federal court is unreviewable and irreversible. So...
Why are federal sentences so much harsher?
Attorneys say the key difference lies in how federal sentencing guidelines are calculated.
A defendant’s sentence is based upon a numeric score attached to the offense, known as the offense level, combined with the defendant’s prior record score.
Once the base offense score is determined, a defendant may be subject to various “enhancements” that increase the total score, and thus, total sentence.
The concern with child porn cases, Cronin and Stabenow said, is the guidelines are written in such a way that nearly all defendants are subject to numerous enhancements.
For example, possession of child pornography typically has a base level score of 22, which equates to a sentence of 41 to 51 months for a first time offender. But if the defendant used a computer – which nearly all defendants do – he or she automatically gets a two-level enhancement, which add 10 to 12 months.
The guidelines are also largely tied to the number of images a person possessed. Once a defendant reaches 600 images, that triggers a five-level enhancement, which, with the computer enhancement, ups the sentencing range to 87 to 108 months – more than double the original sentence.Read the whole thing and tell us what you think:
- Is it good or bad that sentences for the same crime are different depending on what court a defendant lands in?
- And is it right that prosecutors make that decision?