WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Wednesday made it somewhat easier for victims of online child porn to recover limited financial restitution from some of those who download their images.
The majority in the 5-4 ruling concluded that lower courts could use discretion in continuing to award damages, but restitution should be based on certain criteria.
Awards should be tied to the "proximate" harm inflicted by the sexual predator and those who later view the resulting pictures online.
The case involves "Amy Unknown," an unwilling if ubiquitous presence in one digital cave for more than 15 years.
Images of her childhood rape, sexual abuse, and other criminal acts at the hands of a relative have been widely distributed in the underground world of Internet child pornography.
"Of course the victim should someday collect restitution for all her child pornography losses," said Justice Anthony Kennedy. "But it makes sense to spread payment among a larger number of offenders in amounts more closely in proportion to their respective causal roles and their own circumstances so that more are made aware, through the concrete mechanism of restitution, of the impact of child-pornography possession on victims."
The case tested the interpretation and limits of a federal law designed to help those victims.
At issue was the level of proof -- or causal relationship -- prosecutors must show between the defendant's conduct and the victim's harm.
Lower courts have struggled to determine what share of damages should be paid in individual cases.