Child Porn Case Could Establish Viewing as Possession

Child Porn Case Could Establish Viewing as Possession
ATLANTA, Ga. – A Georgia court ruling could set a new precedent in that state under which viewing material on a web page could be considered possession of it.

“Someone in Atlanta will have to decide this,” a Walker County Superior Court judge said as she declared Edward Ray Barton guilty of 106 child sex exploitation charges, setting the stage for the Internet child porn case to appeal.

Barton had 156 child porn images stored in the temporary Internet files section of his Windows-formatted hard drive when the Georgia man’s computer was seized in December, 2003.

Because the images were in the temporary Internet files, Barton is not guilty of possession of child porn, his lawyers said. “Typically in cases like this, an image … is printed, saved and later deleted,” defense attorney Daniel Ripper said. “Some (conscious) act to acquire control occurred. There is no … element of control in this case.”

Because Windows automatically stores web pages viewed in a specific folder and Barton had no pornographic images elsewhere on his computer, Ripper said that possession did not occur.

Though the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection Director Joan Irvine was not aware of any precedent in the American legal system stating that viewing child porn equaled possession of it, she felt that common sense dictates the importance of scale.

"One accidentally-downloaded email is not the same as hundreds of URLs in your history," she said.

"Although viewing child porn is immoral," she told XBiz, "It is not illegal."

Ripper said that no court in the United States has yet issued a decision on whether viewing material constitutes possession of it.

Barton was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“This case could be precedent-setting, not only in the state, but nationwide,” Ripper said. “If the state statute remains the way it is, it could be a nightmare for the citizens.”