The U.S. Federal Government has far-reaching powers to investigate and prosecute suspected cases of possession, creation or trafficking of child pornography.
If the government has reason to believe that someone is involved in child pornography, it will use its wiretapping, subpoena and interviewing power to aggressively investigate the case. Then, should it find evidence that a crime was committed, it will make an arrest and thoroughly prosecute its suspect.
A person convicted on federal child pornography charges can expect to serve a federal prison sentence between 5 years and life imprisonment, depending on the facts of the case.
If you or someone you love has been accused of possessing, creating or trafficking child pornography, it is important that you speak with a federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The federal government is known for showing very little leniency in child pornography cases, so working with an attorney skilled in federal defense can help you build a strong defense and safeguard your freedom.
Federal Definition of Child Pornography
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Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving someone under 18 years of age.
The law is very broad, and it covers almost all types of media: photos, video, computer-generated images, undeveloped film or videotape, as well as electronically stored data that can be converted to an image. The law doesn’t require that the image show the child engaging in sexual activity — only that the image be sexually suggestive.
It’s also illegal to deal with computer-generated images made to look like actual minors, as well as edited images of actual minors.
How Do I Know If I’m Under Federal Investigation?
In short, you usually don’t. When federal agencies like the FBI or the US Postal Service conduct a criminal investigation, they are under no obligation to notify you that you are suspected of committing a crime.
As well, if they gather information from services you use — your internet service provider, web hosting or mobile carrier — your service providers don’t have to tell you, either.
If you are visited by federal agents asking for an interview, you should:
- Politely inform them that you would love to talk, but that you must first speak with your attorney on retainer.
- Have the interview with the attorney present (ideal) or after speaking with an attorney.
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, by requesting that you speak with an attorney first — which is your constitutional right — it might cause the federal agents to rethink whether it’s worth talking with you in the first place.
Second, if you are not a suspect but rather a person close to a case, this can keep you out of trouble if you misremember or misstate a fact.
When the Federal Government Gets Involved
Child pornography is also illegal under California state law. Depending on the facts of the case, it is possible to be prosecuted under state laws in addition to, or instead of, federal law.
The federal government gets involved in child pornography cases when:
- Production, distribution, reception or possession crosses state or international borders;
- Production, distribution, reception or possession involves a federal service like the U.S. Postal Service;
- The case involves persuading, inducing, enticing or coercing a minor into producing child pornography.
Here’s where it gets tricky —
Even if an explicit image didn’t cross borders, if any materials involved in the production, distribution, reception or possession of the image crossed borders, the federal government can get involved. Let’s look at two examples:
Example 1: Mike and Tom are neighbors. They share pornographic images of 17-year-olds amongst themselves on CD-ROMs. Because the discs and computers used to write the discs likely were not produced in the same state as Mike and Tom, this could fall under federal oversight.
Example 2: Mike sends Tom an e-mail with a pornographic image. Again, both Mike and Tom live in the same state. However, because the servers used to host Mike and Tom’s e-mail accounts are in another state, this could become another federal case.
Because of this, we see that virtually all child pornography cases can fall under federal jurisdiction.
Penalties for Federal Child Pornography Charges
Prison sentences typically range between 5 and 20 years for a first time conviction of possession of child pornography,. Production of child pornography carries a minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum of 30 in federal prison.
Sentences can range as high as life imprisonment if the case involves an aggravating factor like:
- The images are violent, sadistic or masochistic;
- The minor was sexually abused; or
- The defendant has prior convictions for child sexual exploitation.
Defense Against Child Pornography Charges
Even facing just the accusations of child pornography production or trafficking can be life-changing. Familial and personal relationships can be strained, and work opportunities can dry up.
As we mentioned above, facing a conviction can mean the loss of your freedom.
However, it’s often possible to obtain favorable judgments, reduced charges or even outright dismissals by working with a federal criminal defense attorney who is skilled in handling sex crimes cases. A good attorney is detail-focused and will know how to work within the framework of the legal system to not only defend your rights but fight for your freedom.
Robert M. Helfend has practiced exclusively as a criminal defense attorney since 1984, establishing a reputation in federal courts as a specialist in sex crimes and child pornography cases. With decades of experience handling cases just like yours, he knows how to get the best possible judgments for his clients and make this stressful time a little less anxious.
Call today for your free case review — 800-834-6434.