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New York lawmakers seek to criminalize viewing of child porn

A day after the state's top court found that simply viewing child pornography wasn't a crime in New York, two legislators said Wednesday that they would soon introduce a measure to make it one.


Reuters contributed to this report by M. Alex Johnson of msnbc.com. Follow M. Alex Johnson on Twitter and Facebook.


The state Court of Appeals — the equivalent of the Supreme Court in most other states — ruled Tuesday in the case of a college professor whose work computer was found to contain illegal images that "merely viewing Web images of child pornography does not, absent other proof, constitute either possession or procurement," which are illegal under state law.

Viewing child porn on the Web 'legal' in New York, state appeals court finds


"Rather, some affirmative act is required (printing, saving, downloading, etc.) to show that defendant in fact exercised dominion and control over the images that were on his screen," Senior Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick wrote for a majority of four of the six judges.

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The ruling generated headlines and opposition across the country. Patrick Trueman, president of the conservative institute Morality in Media and director of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the U.S. Justice Department during the Reagan administration, called on state authorities to take over all child pornography cases "until this opinion is overturned." 

Wednesday, two lawmakers from Brooklyn — Sen. Martin Golden, a Republican, and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Democrat — said they planned to introduce a bill within the next few weeks that would prohibit "knowingly accessing" child pornography "with intent to view."

"Federal regulations are already in place to see that those who access child pornography face the stricter standards of the law," Golden told Reuters on Wednesday. "New York must adopt these same policies."

The decision Tuesday didn't free the defendant. Instead, it dismissed one of the two counts of promoting a sexual performance of a child and just one of dozens of counts of possession of child pornography on which James D. Kent was convicted. The court upheld the other counts against Kent, an assistant professor of public administration at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Kent — who said at his sentencing that he "abhorred" child pornography and argued that someone else at Marist must have placed the images on his computer — was sentenced to one to three years in state prison in August 2009.

The decision turned on the question of whether accessing and viewing something on the Internet is the same as possessing it. In essence, the court said "no."

The court noted that possessing or procuring child pornography is illegal, but the majority said that it was up to the Legislature, not the courts, to decide whether it's also illegal to passively view it online, without taking any other action. 

The practical effect, wrote Judge Victoria A. Graffeo — who concurred with the result but disagreed with the majority's reasoning — is that "the purposeful viewing of child pornography on the Internet is now legal in New York."

You can read the full ruling here, in .pdf form.

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