June 29, 2017By Brian Manchester
Being charged with child pornography by the federal government in Pennsylvania is a very serious crime. If you, a friend, relative, brother, sister, father, mother are charges with child pornography in Pennsylvania you should immediately call us. Even if all that happens is a search warrant was issued for your home, cell phones, computers, electronic devices and you were not put under arrest the first thing you must do is not say anything and the second is to call an experienced Pennsylvania child pornography defense lawyer.
Under federal law, child pornography is any “visual depiction” of a minor engaging in “sexually explicit conduct.” A visual depiction is basically a picture, video or digital image. A minor is anyone under 18 years old. “Sexually explicit conduct” includes a variety of sexual activity including intercourse, masturbation and “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area” of any person. Nudity can be considered “sexually explicit conduct” if it is sexually suggestive.
It is illegal under federal law (18 U.S.C. §2252) to produce, distribute, receive or possess any child pornography. It is also illegal under federal law to knowingly search for and view child pornography even if the images are subsequently destroyed or deleted.
A conviction for a federal child pornography offense can carry a substantial amount of prison time. A person who is convicted of knowingly possessing child pornography can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison or up to 20 years in prison if the minor depicted in the image is under the age of twelve.
A person who is convicted of distributing or receiving child pornography faces a 5 to 20 year prison sentence. Of course, the sentences can be dramatically increased for a person with a prior conviction.
There are also fines and restitution payments that are often required to any identifiable victim of the offense. Not to mention, being convicted of a child pornography offense in federal court will require registration as a sex offender.
Sexual Exploitation of Children
Sexual exploitation of children is a separate crime under federal law that covers the production of child pornography. A person who attempts to induce, persuade or entice a minor to engage in a sexual act for the purpose of making a video, picture or other image is guilty of sexual exploitation under federal law (18 U.S.C. §2251). As with other federal child pornography laws, a minor means anyone under the age of 18.
A person can be prosecuted for sexual exploitation even if all of the conduct occurred outside of the United States. To prosecute someone who is accused of producing child pornography in a foreign country, the government must prove that the person intended to send or make available the child pornography to people in the United States.
The penalties for sexual exploitation under federal law are incredibly severe. The mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years and the maximum is 30 years. The exact sentence for a child pornography or sexual exploitation conviction will depend on a number of factors and the calculation of the advisory federal sentencing guidelines.
In child pornography cases in Pennsylvania and in all federal courts, the sentence usually depends on the number of images or videos that the person possessed or distributed, the age of the minors in the images and the type of sexual conduct shown. There are also enhancements for people who have engaged in a pattern of similar conduct even if the person has never been previously charged or convicted of a sex crime.
Defenses to Child Pornography and Sexual Exploitation Charges
Defending someone charged with a child pornography or sexual exploitation offense in Pennsylvania federal courts can be extraordinarily difficult.
The most obvious defense to these charges is that the person depicted in the film or image is not a minor. We have consulted with pediatricians and other medical experts to review images to show that the person being depicted may very well be 18 years old.
It is a strange fact that federal law criminalizes the possession of a nude picture of someone who is 17 years old, especially in states where 17-year-old people are legally able to consent to sexual intercourse. While in many states it is perfectly legal to have a sexual relationship with someone who is 17 years old, possessing a nude picture of that 17 year old is a violation of federal law and will result in prison time.
As experienced criminal defense lawyers who regularly handle child pornography charges in Pennsylvania we look at the evidence in the case to determine if the images actually show “sexually explicit conduct” as defined under federal law. Many times, the government has collected images showing nudity but not the type of sexual activity prohibited by the law. Images commonly referred to “erotica” are not necessarily images of child pornography.
I many cases of child pornography charged in Pennsylvania and in all federal courts it is important to obtain the assistance of some of the best computer forensic experts in the country. A good computer forensic expert in a child pornography case can help us determine if the government has properly conducted a search of the computer and other electronic devices to locate the evidence.
Our experts will often show that these images may not have been knowingly possessed by the person being charged and, if they had been inadvertently obtained, were quickly deleted or destroyed. Our experts can also help us show that any child pornography images may have been mistakenly downloaded when the computer has a significant amount of adult pornography that is otherwise legal. We can also have our experts focus on specific internet search terms to show that our client was not intentionally searching for child pornography.
In some cases, we have been able to show that the tips or leads the government receives cannot conclusively show that it was our client’s computer that was offering child pornography for distribution. This is also true in many of the undercover operations the government conducts when agents are trolling the internet and various networks trying to find child pornography to download.
Most federal child pornography cases involve the use of peer-to-peer networks and software, including Gnutella, Aries, Bit Torrent and similar networks. We are also now seeing cases involving the TOR network, which the government has recently been able to access and investigate. In a few recent cases, our experts have been able to show that our client’s computer may have been maliciously accessed and used by these networks to allow the distribution of child pornography in Pennsylvania and throughout the country without our client’s knowledge.
Should you find yourself in a situation where you, a family member, or a friend are being charged or investigated for child pornography you need to contact criminal defense attorneys that are experienced in defending federal child pornography charges. Here at Manchester and Associates we represent people across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania charges with federal child pornography charges. At Manchester and Associates, we only practice in criminal defense, thus we understand when people find themselves accused or charged with child pornography in Pennsylvania the challenges that our clients are facing. With a combined experience of over 50 years, there is almost no situation we have not encountered. For a free consultation we can be contacted at (888) 994-7616.