Clovis, NM - Area prosecutors are concerned after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled the state's child porn law ambiguous.
The court's ruling on Monday said the law is unclear on if prosecutors can bring multiple charges against someone for possessing more than one image or video of child porn. This means the way attorneys prosecute offenders has to change.
The ruling overturned the convictions of two Eastern New Mexico men. James Olsson and Willard (William) Ballard were both charged with multiple counts of possession, but now they can only receive one.
"It will just be one count," said Curry and Roosevelt County District Attorney Andrea Reeb. "So if we serve a search warrant and someone possesses 5,000 counts of child pornography, whether it's videos, whether it's different children, whether it's different dates of download, it's just one count."
Reeb said the change will greatly reduce the punishment offenders receive. "Now we can only charge one count, which is a fourth degree felony only punishable by 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. So it really limits the amount of punishment that somebody who is a predator on children can receive." In comparison, she said most offenders her office tries are sentenced to about eight or nine years in prison.
Reeb said her office expects to retry about a dozen cases because of the ruling. "There will be a lot of cases reviewed, people who are serving sentences on plea agreements. Obviously it's overturned a lot of convictions and we will be bringing all those defendants back for resentencing. And many, if not all of them, will probably walk out of prison."
She said the court's ruling is a major setback for protecting children against this type of crime. "I think this is a very disappointing decision, and I think this puts more children at risk. It tells the predators I can possess thousands of images and I know I'm only going to possibly go to jail for 18 months, so there's no deterrent."
The court's ruling does recommend the legislature rewrite the law to fill in the loopholes regarding counts of possession.