child pornography

Paroline v. United States


What causal relationship must exist between a defendant's conduct and a victim's harm for the victim to recover restitution in a child pornography case under 18 U.S.C § 2259?

Doyle Paroline was convicted of possessing 150 to 300 images of minors being sexually abused, including two images of Respondent “Amy” being abused by her uncle at the age of eight or nine years old. The Supreme Court will settle a circuit split over the required causal relationship between a defendant’s possession and a victim’s harm in order for the victim to recover full restitution under 18 U.S.C § 2259. Paroline argues that a victim’s damages must be proximately caused by the defendant’s conduct because any other result would turn child exploitation restitution proceedings into a procedural nightmare. Amy argues that § 2259 does not require proximate causation for a victim to be entitled to full damages; otherwise, the victims of child abuse would bear the burden of collecting tiny shares of restitution from several defendants and might never receive full recovery. The Court’s ruling will impact the rights of exploited children and the procedural rights afforded to those charged with possessing child pornography.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

The Fifth Circuit held, contrary to the holdings of every other circuit considering the question, that there was no requirement that restitution be limited to losses proximately caused by the defendant's criminal acts and that the defendant is responsible for restitution for all losses suffered by the victim regardless of whether the defendant's criminal acts proximately caused the loss and the victim's losses occurred prior to the defendant's indictment and arrest. 

  1. In determining restitution in child pornography cases pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2259(b)(3), is the award of restitution limited to losses proximately caused by the defendant's criminal actions or may a defendant be required to pay restitution for all losses, regardless of whether his criminal acts proximately caused the loss?
  2. Whether the Government is correct in its argument that authorizing $3.4 million in restitution against a defendant to a victim of child pornography who has never had contact with the defendant may violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines in the absence of a proximate cause requirement in the setting of the amount of restitution assessed against that defendant.



Respondent, a young adult under the pseudonym “Amy,” was sexually abused by her uncle when she was eight or nine years old. See In re Amy, 591 F.3d 792, 794 (5th Cir. 2009). Amy’s uncle took a number of photographs depicting her in sexually abusive poses, captured his acts on film, and distributed the materials over the Internet.

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