A specific child pornography case has become a major point of contention at the ongoing Supreme Court hearings for nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

What was the child pornography case?

  • The case is United States v. Hawkins, where Jackson offered the 18-year-old defendant a three-month prison sentence, which was below the U.S. government’s recommendation of two years in prison.
  • It was also well below the federal sentencing guideline, which stood at a minimum of 97 months of incarceration.
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What are the details of the case?

Per The New York Times, the case focused on an 18-year-old high school student, Wesley Hawkins, who started to download pornographic images online.

  • Hawkins, who is gay, was reportedly curious about the photos, his lawyer said at the time.
  • In fact, his lawyer said his connection to the photos was “one of identifying” rather than of “exploiting them sexually,” according to The New York Times.

What happened to Hawkins?

Police later got a cybertip about him when Hawkins posted the photos on YouTube.

  • A detective — who was posing as a fellow child porn collector — reached out to Hawkins and suggested the two sides trade photos.
  • Hawkins eventually exchanged photos with the officer.
  • Hawkins was then arrested. Hawkins took responsibility for what happened.
  • He pleaded guilty to downloading and trading several images and movies containing child pornography, the Deseret News’ Dennis Romboy writes.
  • Many of the video and photos showed boys who were under the age of 13.

Why did Jackson offer a lower sentence?

Jackson said during her hearings with the Senate that this case was an “outlier” in what the law required her to take into account.

  • “As in every child pornography case that I sentenced I considered all of the evidence, all of the relevant factors,” she said, per Utah Policy.
  • “What I can assure you is that I took every one of these cases seriously in my duty and responsibility as a judge and I made my determination in light of the seriousness of the offense, the nature and circumstances of the offense, the history and characteristics of the defendant, the need for the sentence imposed to promote various purposes of punishment and all of the other factors that Congress prescribed,” she said, according to the Deseret News.

Lee questioned Jackson for excluding “from consideration the fact that he had requested and obtained pre-pubescent child pornography images.”

Jackson said she didn’t exclude it but looked at the sentencing guidelines.

  • “It looks to me you excluded it,” Lee said, “and your action sentencing him to three months for one of the most heinous offenses imaginable, keep in mind because these are transmitted electronically, they’re there for years. They revictimize these victims the rest of their lives.”