Ten-Year Internet Ban for Pedophile Okayed by Third Circuit

PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has affirmed the sentence handed down by District Court Judge Sue L. Robinson in convicting child porn watcher Paul Thielemann—both the 20-year prison term and the ban on Thielemann's using the internet for any purpose for 10 years after his release.

Thielemann had been indicted on June 26, 2007, on 18 counts of production (and conspiracy to produce) child pornography, distribution of child porn, possession of child porn, receipt/distribution of obscenity depicting children and possession of obscenity depicting children.

The charges were based on examination of Thielemann's computer's hard drive, which contained both several hundred child porn images as well as transcripts of chat sessions Thielemann had conducted with various other pedophiles, including one with a Christopher Phillips wherein Thielemann had "encouraged Phillips to have sex with an 8-year-old victim—a female child whom Phillips could control."

On January 18, 2008, Thielemann pled guilty to one count of receiving child pornography, but due in part to the chat transcripts, he received the maximum sentence allowed under the federal sentencing guidelines: 240 months.

The court also imposed several "Special Conditions" on Thielemann after his release, including a ban on his "own[ing] or operat[ing] a personal computer with Internet access in a home or at any other location, including employment, without prior written approval of the Probation Office" and "possess[ing] or view[ing] any materials, including pictures, photographs, books, writings, drawings or video games depicting and/or describing sexually explicit conduct." Thielemann appealed both the sentence and those two Special Conditions.

"While the District Court did not specifically explain its rationale in barring Thielemann from sexually explicit materials," Judge Leonard I. Garth wrote for the appeals panel, "the record clearly shows that the District Court's purpose was to rehabilitate Thielemann, to protect children, and to deter future criminal activity."

"Given Thielemann’s sexual desire for adult men who abuse children," Judge Garth later added, after reproducing in the opinion a portion of one of Thielemann's chats, "banning Thielemann from adult sexually explicit material would be an additional deterrent to Thielemann’s sexual arousal and sexual excitement, as it would preclude him from including children in his future sexual experiences. Otherwise, exposure to adult sexually explicit material might very well lead Thielemann to encourage his male associates either to initiate or to continue their abuse of children."

As part of the court's effort to prevent Thielemann's abuse of children, the appeals panel also upheld the ban on his internet use.

"Admittedly, '[c]omputers and internet access have become virtually indispensable in the modern world'," Judge Garth wrote, citing U.S. v. Voelker. "However, Thielemann can own or use a personal computer as long as it is not connected to the internet; thus he is allowed to use word processing programs and other benign software."

"Further, he may seek permission from the Probation Office to use the internet during the term of his 10-year restriction, which is a far cry from the unyielding lifetime restriction in Voelker," the court continued. "The parameters of the computer restriction in this case are far less troubling than those in Voelker. Moreover, the restriction is not disproportionate when viewed in the context of Thielemann's conduct. Thielemann did more than simply trade child pornography; he utilized internet communication technologies to facilitate, entice, and encourage the real-time molestation of a child."