The case is the result of Congress' passage of the Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children Act, which established penalties and restitution for sexual assault, domestic violence and child pornography.
Since Amy’s images were discovered, federal authorities have identified more than 3,200 cases in which they were downloaded. They have won court orders for restitution totaling more than $1.7 million in 182 cases.
This case will test the concept of "joint and several liability" -- whether participants in a crime can be assessed the full cost, regardless of how many others were involved. Such an arrangement makes it easier for victims to get full restitution; violators have the burden of seeking contributions from others convicted for the same offense.
The justices were sympathetic.
"The woman has undergone serious psychological harm because of her knowledge that there are thousands of people out there viewing her rape," Justice Antonin Scalia said, later adding, "Each person increases the amount of her psychological harm."
While the justices agreed she deserves the money, they didn't agree that Paroline should be asked to pay it all. "Some limiting principle has to come into play," Justice Stephen Breyer said. Paroline's culpability in dollars and cents appears to have been "plucked out of the air," said Justice Elena Kagan.
A decision is expected this summer.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is due out this summer.