WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a 200-year prison term for an Arizona man convicted of possessing 20 child pornography images, turning down his appeal arguing the sentence was excessive or cruel and unusual punishment.
Without any comment, the high court declined to hear the constitutional challenge to the sentence given to Morton Berger, who at the time of his arrest in 2002 was a married, 52-year-old high school teacher with no prior criminal record.
Berger’s lawyers said his lengthy punishment was grossly disproportionate to his crime and exceeded the sentences regularly imposed in Arizona for violent crimes that result in serious injury to the victim.
They said the Arizona law, with its mandatory minimum sentence, is the toughest in the nation. Under federal law, Berger would have received a sentence of about five years in prison.
In Arizona, conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor, including possession of images of children under the age of 15 engaged in sexual conduct, carries a sentence of 10 to 24 years in prison, without any possibility of probation, early release or parole.
Possession of each image of child pornography is a separate offense and the law requires that consecutive sentences be imposed.
Evidence at trial established that Berger possessed numerous videos and photo images of different children, some younger than 10 years old, being subjected to sexual acts with adults and other children.
The jury heard testimony that Berger had downloaded child pornography on his computer from 1996 to 2002. He was convicted on 20 separate counts.
The trial judge gave him the required minimum sentence of 200 years in prison — 10 years for each count — and rejected the prosecutor’s request for a 340-year sentence.
After his sentence was upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court, Berger’s lawyer appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“If this court reviews Berger’s entire punishment, instead of examining the sentence for a single count, it would find Berger’s punishment excessive, cruel, unusual and unconstitutional,” lawyer Laurie Herman wrote.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard opposed the appeal. He said Berger’s challenge “is essentially a thinly disguised claim that he is constitutionally entitled to concurrent sentences for multiple crimes.”