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Child pornography minimum sentences enforced in Wisconsin

As we've discussed in past blog posts, the penalties for sex offenses -- particularly those involving children -- are severe in Wisconsin. But until fairly recently, there has always been some leeway for judges and juries in recommending appropriate sentences. That changed in April, when a new enforcing mandatory minimum sentences for underage pornography possession went into effect.

Even before last spring, Wisconsin had a law imposing a three-year mandatory minimum for convictions on underage pornography charges. But contained in that statute was a clause that allowed judges to use discretion in imposing sentences. This discretion was used heavily across the state, and the majority of those convicted of this crime received sentences that were less than three years. In Winnebago County, for instance, 16 people have been sentenced for underage pornography; of those, 11 were sentenced to probation and one received a sentence of 18 months. Out of six cases that resulted in convictions in Calumet County, four defendants were given probation sentences. Five out of seven people convicted of underage pornography in Waupaca County received probation.

This tendency to use the clause in the majority of underage pornography cases apparently raised the ire of some lawmakers and led to the new law ensuring that the exception to the three-year mandatory minimum no longer acts as the rule itself. The Republican representative who sponsored the new law said the best way to keep Wisconsin children safe is to strictly adhere to the three-year sentence law. Under the revised law, the only exception is in cases where the defendant is no more than four years older than the victim.

But as many defense attorneys and psychological professionals have long contended, treating defendants individually with counseling and therapy outside of prison is usually more effective than prison treatment programs. By taking a cookie-cutter approach to underage pornography offenders, the criminal justice system may be doing a disservice both to offenders and potential victims.

This is just one reason those accused of producing or distributing underage pornography must seek an aggressive defense attorney as soon as they're aware of any allegations or charges against them. With the stakes higher than ever, it's important that defendants get fair and effective treatment not only in court, but during the penalty phase, in cases of conviction.

Source: The Northwestern.com, "Revised law toughen penalties for underage pornography," Jim Collar, Jan. 21, 2013

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