Colorado Supreme Court bars multiple convictions based on number of images

By Michael Karlik . . .

The Colorado Supreme Court has clarified that no matter how many pornographic images an individual possesses, sexual exploitation of a child merits a single charge, which prosecutors had derogatorily deemed a “volume discount on child pornography.”

Following the decision, multiple state legislators agreed that the guidelines for prosecuting the crime should spark a conversation given the court’s interpretation.

“What does justice look like for child pornography, be it one image or 10 images or 1,000 images?” asked Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “All I have to say is it all has the same damage.”

At issue was whether prosecutors may charge a defendant per image of a child or, in the case of Joshua Christian Bott, group images together in batches of at least 20 to pursue the longer sentence for possession of more than 20 items. El Paso County prosecutors charged Bott with 12 counts of possessing more than 20 items, covering nearly 300 images in total.

Bott appealed his conviction, arguing he should have only received a single charge for possessing more than 20 images. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with him and reversed 11 of his 12 convictions. The three-judge panel decided Bott’s multiple convictions violated the constitutional protection against double jeopardy for imposing more than one punishment for a single act.

Without explicit authorization to the contrary, the General Assembly intended the possession of more than 20 items to be a single act, regardless of the number of images, the justices decided.

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    • #79174 Reply
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      Thomas Darby

      This decision reflects similar ones in other states. In California, in 1997 I was arrested for possession of 21 images, and initially had 21 counts. However my public dumptruck, in his only positive pleading, demurred because of the fact that only one actual act, place, and time (on my one computer) could not prove multiple incidences as required by law. As I understand it, California law has been since clarified to state that only one charge can come out of one arrest for the same crime. Oddly this arose because of marijuana arrests years ago, where prosecutors tried to charge a separate crime for each plant.

    • #79194 Reply
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      Gene Haynes

      I was charged with 22 counts of possession of child porn. None were of anybody that I know or knew. I tried to understand whether this article applies to my crimes or not.

      • #79197 Reply
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        Ed C

        Do you live in Colorado? If so, you should speak with your lawyer about this.

    • #79199 Reply
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      LINDA SHEDLOCK

      What other states would this apply to . My brother had 5 pics with questionable age . He was charged for 3 at one time . Arizona is where he lives . Would is they law , case number and anything else that would help him ? Please . I am legal guardian , he is 57 years old with intellectual disabilities all his life . Any info would help me ? Thank you !

    • #79696 Reply
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      WC_TN

      I wouldn’t be too happy about this. This ruling may help a few, but the second the legislature reconvenes for the new year they will simply change the verbiage of the law to ensure each and every photo can be charged individually and the sentences ran consecutive for each and every photo.

      Notice the court’s dicta: “WITHOUT EXPLICIT AUTHORIZATION TO THE CONTRARY”. This will be a very short-lived victory. I can just about guarantee you the legislature won’t just throw up their arms and say, “Oh, well; we tried!”. They will do what they always do; legislate their way around the court ruling.

    • #79705 Reply
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      WC_TN

      I need to correct an error in my previous post. It’s more accurate to say the court, in ruling for the appellant gave the state a roadmap to avoid this “adverse” (from the state’s point of view) ruling in the future. The court pretty much told the state to change the wording of the law if you want each and every photo to be a separate count. That can be very easily and quickly addressed when the legislature comes back into session for 2021.

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