With the advent of the internet has come an explosion in child pornography and with it a many fold increase in the number of criminal prosecutions for the possession, manufacture and distribution of these illegal materials. Typically these cases come about in two ways. The first is that the defendant is being investigated for other matters such as allegations of child abuse. The police get a search warrant for the target’s computer and find these materials. These cases can be highly defensible if the target does not have exclusive use and access to the computer as is very often the case. The second and more common way that these cases have come about in recent years is that the police conduct a sting operation on the internet. Typically the Detective will enter a chat room and pose as a person interested in sharing images and videos of children engaged in sex acts. The Detective will make contact with other individuals and offer to send and receive these materials. When the person agrees and sends the materials, the police determine the location of the computer through the IP address and apply for a search warrant. In these cases the defenses are usually the same as in the first scenario along with possible entrapment defenses.
Most of these cases are charged, at least initially, in State Court where there are no mandatory minimum sentences for these offenses. However, in many of these cases, the Assistant State’s Attorney will contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office and secure an agreement to federally indict the defendant if he does not agree to the plea offer in State Court. This can put the defendant in an extremely difficult situation, even in defensible cases, as the penalties for these charges in Federal Court can be extreme. In Federal Court, simple receipt of child pornography carries a minimum mandatory 5 years in prison. For Distribution the penalty is 10 years and manufacture it is 15 years. As in all Federal Sentences, these sentences must be served without the possibility of parole.
In other situations it is the Federal Prosecutors who express an interest in taking the case into Federal Court. Preventing this from happening is a big part of representing someone who is charged in this type of case and this is something the Criminal Team at STSW has been particularly successful at.
Needless to say, child pornography offenses are extremely serious charges. It is imperative for an individual who is charged or even being investigated for crimes associated with child pornography to immediately retain aggressive and experienced criminal attorneys. At STSW, our Criminal Team of former State and Federal Prosecutors, including Partner Andrew White, the former Division Chief of the Sex Offense Unit in the United States’ Attorney’s Office, have the experience and knowledge of how the system operates to, first and foremost keep the case out of Federal Court, and to ultimately get the best possible result for the person charged.