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Utah attorney to argue landmark victims' rights case before Supreme Court

By Carole Mikita | Posted - Jan. 13, 2014 at 10:18 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — It's the story of a young woman who was the victim of child pornography and her desire for restitution — and it may be a precedent-setting case for victims' rights.

University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell will argue "Amy's" case before the United States Supreme Court next week, and he believes the justices will see that perpetrators should pay their victims and serve time behind bars.

"This is going to be a red letter day for the crime victims' rights movement, because this is the first time that an attorney for a victim of crime has argued before the United States Supreme Court that her rights should be protected in a criminal case," Cassell said.

Cassell is representing a young woman, known only as Amy, and says she is harmed every time someone views pornographic images of her.

Amy's uncle raped her when she was 8 years old and placed images of the crime on a pornographic website. He was sent to prison and she received treatment. But each time a person is arrested for viewing her image, the U.S. Department of Justice sends Amy a letter.

"Literally, tens of thousands of men around the country have looked at images of her for sexual gratification," Cassell said. "So, she's had very serious harms resulting from that gross invasion of her privacy."


This is going to be a red letter day for the crime victims' rights movement, because this is the first time that an attorney for a victim of crime has argued before the United States Supreme Court that her rights should be protected in a criminal case.

–Paul Cassell, U. law professor


Experts estimate some 70,000 people have seen those pornographic photos of Amy.

"She still has difficulty interacting with the public, because whenever she runs into someone she has to wonder, 'Is he smiling at me because it's a nice day? Or are they smiling because they've seen pictures of me in these terrifying moments?'" Cassell said.

Combining counseling costs and lost income, a psychologist and an economist have set Amy's compensation at $3.4 million, to be collected from the assets of as many convicted criminals in this case as possible.

Currently there are 10 million Internet protocol addresses in the U.S. with child pornography, so Amy's case will ultimately represent many young men and women.

Cassell has spent five years arguing this case before both district and appellate courts. Jeremy Christiansen, a third year law student who assisted Cassell with the Supreme Court petition, said he's confident about the outcome.

"When Congress passed the statute, Congress's full intent was to give the victims' losses back to the victims in restitution; and I think that we have a very strong case," Christiansen said.

"This is extremely important to make the victims whole and to put them back on their feet and to put them in the position where they would have been if no crimes had been committed against them," Cassell said.

The justices will hear the case on Jan. 22 and will likely offer a ruling sometime in June.

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Carole Mikita

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