Child pornography charges and convictions have increased dramatically over the years. This is due to a combination of increased access to the internet and increased prosecution of child pornography. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, from 1996 to 2006 the number of defendants convicted of federal child pornography offenses rose from 156 to 1,150. The average sentence also increased from 15 months in prison to 63 months behind bars during that same period. As a result, more people find themselves facing federal criminal charges for downloading illegal images from the internet.
Criminal sentences can include life in prison, even if the individual never touched a child. Even after an individual has served their time, they may have to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life. With such severe penalties, it is important to talk to a lawyer who understands the impact this could have on you and your family.
Possession vs Receipt
The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines differentiate between the offense of “possessing” child pornography and “receiving” child pornography. Possession has no mandatory minimum penalty while receiving child pornography carries a minimum 5-year sentence. However, this difference may be deceiving. Most cases of individuals found in possession of child pornography are charged with receiving child pornography, facing a minimum of five years in prison. 18 U.S.C. § 2252A
Trading and Distribution
Any person who knowingly mails, transports, ships, receives, distributes, reproduces, promotes or offers any child pornography may be charged under federal law. Anyone who violates these laws, conspires, or attempts to violate the law shall be imprisoned for not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years. However, prior convictions involving child pornography or abuse may result in a minimum sentence of 15 years, up to 40 years in jail. 18 U.S.C. § 2252A
Production of Child Pornography
Production of child pornography generally involves the crime of sexual exploitation of children. Under 18 U.S.C. § 2251, any person who employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any minor to engage in, or who has a minor assist any other person to engage in, or with the intent that such minor engage in, any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct shall be imprisoned for not less than 15 years, up to a maximum of 30 years. However, a prior conviction involving child pornography or abuse may result in a minimum sentence of 25 years, up to 50 years in jail. Two prior convictions can result in a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Under the United States Sentencing Commission guidelines, there are a number of factors that determine the range of activity to be considered for sentencing. This begins with establishing the base level of the offense. Then adjustments are made based on special offense characteristics, and consideration of the victim. Each count goes through the same consideration. However, the judge can also take into account any relevant conduct to establish the mandatory minimum sentence. 2015 U.S.S.C. Guidelines Manual
Aggravating Factors in Sentencing
Under the mandatory minimum guidelines, a judge uses a number of factors to determine the level of the offense, and apply that to a formula to determine the minimum sentence for the defendant. These factors can increase or decrease the base offense level. In child pornography cases, aggravating factors include:
- The material involved a minor under the age of 12;
- Distribution for financial gain;
- Distribution to a minor;
- Sadistic, masochistic, or violent depictions;
- The use of a computer for possession, transmission, receipt, or distribution; and
- The number of images or files involve.
The internet makes access, transmission, and distribution of large files relatively simple. Most child pornography cases involve possession, receipt or transmission of many images, resulting in an increased minimum sentence. The sentencing guidelines increase the offense level by 5 if 600 or more images are involved in the offense.
Sex Offender Registration
One of the most difficult things to deal with after a conviction for child pornography is carrying the label of a sex offender. Under 18 U.S.C. § 2250, it is a federal offense for sex offenders required to register to knowingly fail to register or update their registration as required. State sex offenders can also be prosecuted under federal law if they travel between states or out of the country and fail to register or update their registration as required. Violations may result in up to 10 years in prison.
Each state has their own sex offender registration requirements. In general, individuals who have been convicted of certain sex offenses are required to register with local law enforcement. This may require regular mandatory reporting duties, and reporting whenever the individual moves. They may also be limited in where they can live and where they can work. They may also be listed on a publicly accessible website that lists information about state sex offenders. Depending on the state, these registries can show the name, address, physical description, photograph, and even the offense of the individual. These restrictions may be for a set period of time; however, in some states, sex offender registration can be a lifelong requirement.
Defenses to Child Pornography Charges
Federal prosecutors are bringing more child pornography cases to court, and aggressively pursuing long criminal sentences. However, each case has possible defenses that could result in having the charges dismissed or a reduced sentence.
Some possible defenses include showing that multiple individuals used a certain computer terminal, a mistake in the description or content of certain websites or image files, or infiltration by a computer virus or malware. There may be other defenses based on the statements or actions of federal investigators. Each case is unique, and your attorney will be able to advise you of the best defenses available in your case.
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you or a loved one is facing charges involving child pornography, you need to seek out the experienced advice of federal criminal defense attorneys who understand what is at stake for you and your family. A child pornography conviction could result in decades in federal prison, and lifelong sex offender status, even if they never touched a child. Your attorneys will review your case, identify all possible ways to challenge the conviction and fight for your rights in court. It is important to have the right lawyers on your side, to make sure you don't have to pay a life sentence for a one-time mistake.