Conjunction Function


Arrested at 18 for e-mailing child pornography to people who requested it, Jorge Pabon-Cruz received a 10-year sentence last year. U.S. District Judge Gerard Lynch called it "the worst case of my judicial career," saying he had no choice but to impose a sentence he considered inappropriately harsh.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit says Lynch did have a choice, because the law Pabon-Cruz violated did not actually impose a mandatory minimum sentence. The law called for a fine, a 10-year sentence, "and both"–phrasing the appeals court says rendered Congress' intent opaque, especially since an earlier version of the bill said "or both," language that would have allowed judges to choose between a fine and a prison term. As a result of the misplaced conjunction, Pabon-Cruz will be resentenced to a shorter prison term.

Meanwhile, Congress has fixed the law under which he was convicted, although not in the way Judge Lynch would have liked. Now first-time offenders convicted of advertising to receive or distribute child pornography will receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.