Hearing causes legal debateU.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Erickson posed a startling question in his courtroom this week: “What’s worse: Pay for photos of a child being raped, or pay children for the privilege of raping them?” he asked.
By: By Kristen M. Daum , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Erickson posed a startling question in his courtroom this week:
“What’s worse: Pay for photos of a child being raped, or pay children for the privilege of raping them?” he asked.
The legal debate spawned from a hearing to determine the sentence for a man accused of crossing statelines to pay a child to have sex with him.
Darrin Roy Anderson, of Middle River, Minn., will serve 12 years in prison, Erickson decided.
But the judge, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Puhl, agreed that the case presents a larger issue in the U.S. judicial system.
A glaring oversight exists in sentencing guidelines that mean someone like Anderson could serve far less time in jail than others whose crimes aren’t as egregious.
For example, those who possess images of child pornography can serve up to 20 years in prison.
Robert Scheiring, of Fargo, had 600,000 images and 2,400 videos of child pornography in his possession. He’s nearly one year into his 14-year prison sentence.
Jonathan Stahl, of Wahpeton, possessed about 50,000 images of child porn, and he was sentenced last fall to serve 17 1/2 years in prison.
In contrast, Anderson personally lured hundreds of underage teenage girls over Facebook, sent them sexually explicit text messages and photos, and — in at least one case — arranged to meet a 13-year-old and paid her $300 to have sex with him.
But the 12-year sentence Anderson received this week was about double the time he ought to have gotten according to federal sentencing guidelines.
Anderson’s attorney Chris Lancaster argued unsuccessfully that a six- to seven-year sentence would have sufficed in both punishing Anderson and protecting the public.
“(That time) is not an insignificant sentence at all,” he said. “That should be sufficient. Anything greater than the guideline range would be excessive.”
Lancaster also argued that Anderson’s consistent work history and strong family ties were factors that weighed in his favor.
Nonetheless, Erickson opted for a rare move in handing down a sentence longer than what federal guidelines called for.
As the first crime of its kind in North Dakota, judicial officials haven’t yet faced this specific challenge of weighing the guidelines against what might a judge might deem adequate justice.
Puhl, from the U.S. Attorney’s office, called for a 10-year sentence, arguing the guidelines “don’t do enough” to protect society from Anderson’s crimes.
It became evident early on in the sentencing hearing that Erickson also didn’t believe a six- to seven-year sentence would match the severity of Anderson’s actions.
“I honestly don’t believe the sentencing guidelines contemplate this type of offense,” Erickson said. “To say seven years even begins to address the issues appropriately is insane.”
Erickson and Puhl said Anderson’s case is one Congress didn’t consider in passing legislation, such as the Adam Walsh Act.
The 2006 law made federal punishments more severe for crimes that exploit children. It also enhanced registration requirements for sex offenders.
“Congress didn’t address it,” Erickson said. “It makes no sense to have a person who trades pictures go to jail for a decade, but a person who crosses statelines to prostitute a 13-year-old girl will spend less time in prison.”
Kristen Daum is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.