In what is probably the most controversial decisions in recent times, the New York Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that viewing child pornography online is not a crime.
“The purposeful viewing of child pornography on the internet is now legal in New York,” Senior Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick wrote in a majority decision for the court.
In August 2009 Marist College professor James D. Kent was sentenced to prison after more than 100 images of child pornography were found on his computer’s cache. It was this conviction which led to this decision.
The ruling attempts to distinguish between individuals who see an image of child pornography online versus those who actively download and store such images.
In the Kent case, it was ruled that a computer’s image cache is not the same as actively choosing to download and save an image.
“Merely viewing Web images of child pornography does not, absent other proof, constitute either possession or procurement within the meaning of our Penal Law,” Ciparick wrote in the decision.
The court said it must be up to the legislature, not the courts, to determine what the appropriate response should be to those viewing images of child pornography without actually storing them. Currently, New York’s legislature has no laws deeming such action criminal.
As The Atlantic Wire notes, under current New York law, “it is illegal to create, possess, distribute, promote or facilitate child pornography.” But that leaves out one critical distinction, as Judge Ciparick stated in the court’s decision.
“[S]ome 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,” Ciparick wrote. “To hold otherwise, would extend the reach of (state law) to conduct—viewing—that our Legislature has not deemed criminal.”
The case originated when Kent brought his computer in to be checked for viruses, complaining that it was running slowly. He has subsequently denied downloading the images himself.