HARTFORD - Current and former Connecticut officials have started drafting proposed changes to the state’s child pornography laws that would drop mandatory minimum prison sentences in some cases involving defendants with mental health or developmental disabilities.
The potential revisions are the result of frustration by judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers with the current child pornography possession laws, said Thomas Ullmann, a retired state public defender and member of the state Sentencing Commission. The panel reviews state criminal sentencing policies and practices and recommends changes.
The state’s child pornography possession charges are all felonies that include mandatory minimum prison sentences of one to five years. There have been cases where judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers believed the defendants should not have received prison time but did because of how strict the laws are, Ullmann said.
“It’s not a matter of being soft on this kind of crime,” Ullmann said. “It really reflects on who we should be putting in prison. I think a lot of people agree on all sides of this issue. Even with the most serious crime, there could be some explanation based on age or mental state that could cause a court to look at an individual very differently.”
It was not immediately clear if there is any opposition to the proposed changes. A spokeswoman for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said no one was available to comment. Officials with the state child advocate’s office and the National District Attorneys Association did not return messages seeking comment.
Ullmann is part of a working group of the Sentencing Commission that is aiming within the next few months to draft proposed legislation that would allow suspended sentences for child porn possession based on mitigating factors for defendants such as developmental disabilities or their young age. The group also is looking at recommending tougher penalties based on the content of the pornography.
A person with autism, for example, may not understand the illegality of downloading child pornography, Ullmann said. Someone also might accidentally download child porn to their computers, other defense lawyers say, while teenagers may search for pornography involving people their own age not knowing it’s a serious crime.
The working group also is considering a proposal to eliminate part of the current law that increases penalties based on the number of child porn images in someone’s possession. The penalties are based on the number of photographs or frames in a video. With today’s technology and download speeds, hundreds of photos or video frames can be downloaded in a matter of minutes, officials say.
Possessing just one five-minute video may result in a charge of first-degree possession of child pornography, which carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, Judge Robert Devlin Jr., chairman of the Sentencing Commission, said at a commission meeting on Dec. 14. He said that may not be what state legislators intended when they wrote the current laws.
Stamford-Norwalk State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. said law enforcement officials are seeing an increasing number of child porn cases involving defendants on the autism spectrum, and he said the proposed law changes make sense.
Stamford attorney Mark Sherman said he once had a client who accidentally downloaded child porn along with legitimate pornography. Although the client deleted the child porn, the images were still found on his computer and he was sentenced to prison, Sherman said.
“The law hasn’t kept up with technology and with how easy it is to accidentally download some of these images,” Sherman said.