Second Circuit Reverses Judge Weinstein's Child Porn's Ruling

Critics decry mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders as an unfair and expensive means of ruining lives. Yet the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, recently stood its ground when it reversed federal Judge Jack Weinstein’s ruling to deliver a 30-month prison sentence to Corey Reingold, who had pled guilty to committing, at age 19, one count of distributing child pornography. According to a Sept. 27, 2013, news account from the ABA Journal, Reingold had shared child pornography through a file-sharing program called GigaTribe. He had admitted to downloading “a ton” of child porn and also admitted to sexual conduct with a minor who is a relative. The mandatory minimum sentence was five years. Their ruling is available here.
In the Second Circuit’s Sept. 26, 2013, reversal, where the order is to “remand the case to the district court with directions that it vacate the sentence and resentence the defendant consistent with this opinion,” Judge Weinstein’s 401-page sentencing opinion came under review, along with the judge’s allegation that a five-year sentence for Corey Reingold was an unconstitutional Eighth Amendment violation. Judge Weinstein had claimed the mandatory minimum a cruel and unusual punishment and had suggested that 30 months would provide enough psychiatric treatment to prevent a repeat offense.

The 2nd Circuit’s reversal, though, found no such constitutional violation and a case analysis gave much attention to
Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957 (1991), for case specific analysis and Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010), for categorical rule analysis. The court emphasized, citing Graham, that punishments are deemed cruel and unusual when they are both “inherently barbaric” and “disproportionate to the crime.” A five-year sentence, the court said, requires categorical rules to ensure constitutional proportionality as applied to particular felony crimes or classes of defendants, and the Second Circuit ruled that Judge Weinstein had not employed Graham’s analytic approach to pronounce a categorical rule. Instead, the appellate court said Judge Weinstein had found the five-year minimum disproportionate to the offense as applied specifically to Reingold. “The Supreme Court’s proportionality jurisprudence does not support such a substitution of Graham’s categorical-rule approach for Harmelin’s particular-case approach to assess the proportionality of an otherwise permissible term-of-years sentence as applied to a particular case,” the court said.

The reversal also criticized Judge Weinstein’s emphasis on juvenile offenders. “Reingold was already 19 when he committed the crime of conviction,” the 2
nd Circuit’s opinion reads. “In short, he was an adult, not a juvenile.”

Judge Weinstein’s sentencing opinion states that Corey Reingold was 15 when he started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. A year later, the judge wrote, a friend introduced him to child pornography on the Internet. He began watching the material with male and female peers.