State Judges Cannot be Trusted to Protect Children

Read the full report in the Sunday Star-Ledger
Location is key in child porn cases
by Robert Schwaneberg and Mary Jo Patterson Sunday October 21, 2007, 8:38 AM

With characteristic flourish, the New Jersey State Police issued a press release earlier this month bearing the headline, "State Police Lock Up Dozens For Sending and Receiving Child Porn."

Most citizens would stand up and cheer at the thought. The men were charged with downloading or trading a particularly loathsome video showing, at close range, a 5-year-old girl being raped.

But if past prosecutions are any lesson, it is not at all clear the defendants will spend much time behind bars. The Star-Ledger researched what happened to 27 others arrested in a very similar 2005 police operation and found of 23 cases that have concluded only seven defendants got any jail time.

Other research shows that it is federal prosecutions, not state, that can be counted on to put defendants in prison.

When it comes to child pornography, it seems, the court where the case is handled makes all the difference. "It all depends: state or federal," said Jack Furlong, a West Trenton lawyer who handles sex cases and has co-authored a book on Megan's Law.

In the 2005 State Police investigation, dubbed Operation Guardian, 14 of 27 adults arrested pleaded guilty; one was convicted at a trial before a judge.

The seven who did jail time got sentences ranging from 24 days to six years, with the toughest going to a man who already was a registered sex offender.

Eight, meanwhile, got probation, charges against two more were dropped, and six ended up in pretrial intervention, a program that, if successfully completed, results in dismissal of all charges.

Of the remaining defendants, one is a fugitive, another is awaiting trial, and no information is available for the other two.

Those outcomes stand in stark contrast to the prison terms imposed on seven New Jersey men arrested around the same time on federal child pornography charges.

All seven, arrested on Oct. 5, 2004, eventually pleaded guilty. Six got terms ranging from 26 to 37 months.

The lone lenient sentence -- four months -- was later overturned by a federal appeals court that ordered the defendant resentenced.

An eighth man arrested the same day is awaiting trial.


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