Arizona child porn sentences called excessive

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by azfamily.com

azfamily.com

Posted on March 8, 2014 at 3:47 PM

Updated Saturday, Mar 8 at 4:00 PM

PHOENIX -- Arizona has some of the toughest penalties when it comes to child pornography convictions, and critics say the sentences can be excessive.

Under state law, possession of a single image of child pornography carries a mandatory 10-year sentence, and each count must be served consecutively.

One man convicted of owning child porn said he has unfairly received a sentence of 200 years.

A jury convicted Morton Berger, a former teacher at Cortez High School in Phoenix, on 20 counts of child pornography in 2003. Police found Berger’s collection organized in binders and stored on CDs.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery called Berger's actions a “theft of innocence,” and said those images will continue to be traded online for the rest of the children's lives.

“One of the CDs had over 500 movies on it that depicted children under the age of 10 -- boys and girls with adult men,” he said.

During Berger’s trial, the prosecution produced evidence showing he was a member of a child pornography ring. Berger needed at least 10,000 images to trade in so he could be admitted, Montgomery said.

In an exclusive interview with 3TV, Berger said he does not deserve such a punishment, and the laws instituting mandatory sentences should be reexamined.

“I looked at a picture,” he said. “Is that worth 200 years?”

Laurie Herman, Berger's attorney, appealed the sentence all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the crime does not fit the punishment.

“If you commit second-degree murder of a child, you can be eligible to get out before you die," Herman said. "But if you possess the image, you’re not going to get out of prison before you die.”

Montgomery said he is open to increasing the penalty for a second-degree murder conviction.

“If we want to use as a baseline for proportionality the death of innocence and increasing other penalties, well, then let’s look at that,” he said.

Studies show that 85 percent of people who possess child pornography have committed a sexual offense.

"If they haven't already abused a child then it's by God's grace they were caught and stopped early," Montgomery said.

Thomas Warner, a former teacher at North Ranch Elementary School in Scottsdale, is serving only 10 years in state prison after he pleaded guilty to three lesser charges.

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