An 8-year prison sentence for a convicted child pornographer has been vacated and remanded for resentencing following a procedural error that involved the judge in the case going off on a completely unnecessary rant about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. The case is even odder when you understand that the crimes in question had absolutely nothing to do with Facebook.
56-year-old Laura Culver was sentenced on January 30th to 96 months in jail for producing child pornography. Back in 2001 and 2002, Culver collaborated with a man named Edgardo Sensi to film an 8-year-old girl engaged in various sexual acts. Pretty disgusting stuff. So, an 8-year prison sentence is not unreasonable, right?
Well no, but in this specific case the sentence is being thrown out. An appeals court has ruled that the judge’s actions during sentencing demand that the sentence be vacated and reworked.
While explaining Culver’s sentence, U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton reportedly went on some sort of unrelated Facebook-bashing tangent where he ended up blaming Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for “hurting a lot of people.”
The records are sealed, but the appeals court, in its decision, paints a pretty clear picture of what the judge was ranting about.
In justifying its decision to impose a sentence of eight years instead of six, the district court referenced “Facebook, and things like it, and society has changed.” … The court speculated that the proliferation of Facebook would facilitate an increase in child pornography cases. The court said it hoped Mark Zuckerberg (who founded Facebook) was “enjoying all his money because…he’s going to hurt a lot of people….”
But Facebook had nothing to do with Culver’s case. In fact, the internet itself didn’t even play a factor in it.
The government argues that the district court was merely concerned about the extent to which various new technologies may facilitate child pornography, rather than Facebook specifically. In that sense, Facebook was a reference to the internet, using synecdoche. But the government does not explain (because it cannot) the role of new technology in this case. Culver did not use the internet to commit her crime, and it should not have played a predominant role in her sentencing.
The appeals court makes a point to say that the ruling in no way suggests that the 8-year sentence for Culver’s crimes is “substantively unreasonable.” In fact, it’s actually well under the recommended guidelines for such a crime.
“Still, that discretion should be exercised without the influence of procedural error.”
What a truly terrible, and odd case.[via Techdirt]