Last week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the constitutionality of “a 120-year sentence imposed on a defendant convicted of production, possession, and transportation of child pornography, in connection with his sexual molestation of a four-year-old boy.”
James Robert Cobler was arrested in 2012 after police discovered him sharing child pornography on a publicly available peer-to-peer network. After computer forensic investigators used Cobbler’s Internet Protocol Address to track the files’ origin to his grandparent’s home, they executed a search warrant.
According to the affidavit, “Cobler admitted to possessing numerous images of child pornography, and using the P2P file sharing software that was used during the above-referenced downloads.” He also “indicated that he was aware of the fact that the files, including the child pornography images that were in his ‘shared’ folder were available for download by others using the peer-to-peer network.”
The most serious charges against him, however, stemmed from his admission that he not only molested a four-year-old boy he regularly babysat, but that he had taken photographs of himself doing so. Police found a folder on Cobler’s computer labelled with the victim’s first name, and it contained 11 images and one video of him performing sex acts with the child.
Cobler pleaded guilty to three counts of producing child pornography, and one count each of transportation of child pornography in interstate commerce and possession of child pornography. According to a presentence report, “although Cobler lacked any prior convictions, the severity of his offenses warranted an initial advisory guidelines term of life imprisonment.” However, none of the charges against him warranted a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, so the district court instead sentence him to the maximum time for each of his crime, totaling 120 years.
At his sentencing hearing, Cobler requested his sentence be reduced on account of “his grave medical condition and short life expectancy.” In his appeal, Cobler claimed that the 120-year sentence “violates the Eight Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because the sentence is disproportionate to the severity of his crimes.”
The court rejected his appeal, writing that “[g]iven the shocking and vile conduct underlying these criminal convictions, we hold that Cobler has failed to substantiate the required threshold inference of gross disproportionality.”
“Not only did Cobler possess large quantities of child pornography that he downloaded and shared on the Internet, fueling the public consumption of materials harmful to children, but he also created depictions of his own sexual exploitation, molestation, and abuse of a four-year-old child,” the court wrote.
“To make matters worse, Cobler was aware that his sexual contact with the child could have caused the child to contract Cobler’s serious communicable disease.”
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