Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ruling complicates Internet predator bill

State House Bureau Chief

A recent New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling complicated the job of passing a law that would mean longer jail terms for Internet sexual predators.

Gov. John Lynch wants tougher laws on Internet solicitation and child pornography to get through the Legislature this year.

"We will not allow sexual predators to hide in the shadows of cyberspace. We must modernize our laws to protect our children from the threats of the 21st Century," Lynch told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Soliciting sex from a child under 13 over the Internet would carry a maximum prison term of 20 years under Senate Bill 495. Possession of child pornography would bring up to 20 years. Manufacturing child pornography, essentially child sex abuse images, would carry the toughest maximum term of 30 years in prison.

A ruling in a child pornography appeal in January makes it tougher to nail down just what constitutes pornography, and raised questions over how tightly the Supreme Court has tied the state's hands.

In a 2-1 decision, the court ruled that photographer Marshall Zidel did not create child pornography when he used a computer to transfer the faces of his daughter and her friends on women's bodies in graphic adult pornography. The images were created without causing harm to actual children, the two justices ruled. They said the "virtual pornography" was protected by constitutional guarantees of free speech.

Criminal defense lawyer Michael Iacopino, representing the state Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, questioned how the bill could pass review by either the state or U.S. Supreme Court. He also protested the bill's restrictions on how defense lawyers can review evidence. It bars any copies of images or computer files from being transferred to defenders, and requires them to review the evidence at a state facility.

If the bill passes as written, evidence issues will bring a round of court fights in every case before the criminal trial ever begins, he said.

"It's just going to logjam these things more than necessary," Iacopino said.

Kelly Ayotte said the issue of solicitation by sexual predators on the Internet is an important one that should not be pushed aside.

"Every time a detective captures one of these individuals it saves a child, and we should not forget that. They are determined predators," she said.

Lynch has pushed hard to toughen laws on sexual offenders. He worked to pass major reform on child predators in the Child Protection Act two years ago. This year, the House passed a bill that tightens the laws on the sexual offender registry, and the House passed a bill raising the age of a minor from 16 to 18 for child pornography crimes.

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