Penal Code 311.11 | Possession of Child Pornography

Penal Code 311.11 | Possession of Child Pornography

Penal Code 311.11 is a California law that makes it illegal to possess child pornography. This article will explain what the law says, penalties, defenses, and other key information in a simple, conversational tone.

What Does the Law Say?

Basically, Penal Code 311.11 makes it a crime to have or control any type of obscene material showing a minor (under 18) engaging in sexual conduct. This includes things like:

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Films
  • Computer files
  • Digital storage devices

It doesn’t matter if it’s a physical copy like a DVD or just a digital file on your computer. Having it in your possession or control is against the law.

Are There Any Exceptions?

There are a few exceptions where you can legally have this kind of material:

  • For legitimate scientific or educational purposes
  • For governmental or law enforcement purposes

But these exceptions are pretty narrow. Basically, unless you’re a doctor, researcher, or cop doing official work, it’s illegal.

What Are the Penalties?

The penalties for violating Penal Code 311.11 depend on the specifics of your case, but can include:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • 16 months to 3 years in state prison

So we’re talking felony charges with years behind bars. It’s very serious.

What Are Some Defenses?

If you’re accused of violating this law, some possible defenses include:

  • The material doesn’t meet the legal definition of child pornography or obscenity
  • You had no knowledge the files were there or were obtained accidentally
  • The content falls under one of the exceptions (scientific, educational, etc)

You may also argue there are free speech and constitutional issues with the law itself. But in general, “I didn’t know” or “I didn’t mean to have it” are common defenses.

How Are Charges Usually Filed?

Most charges under this law start with:

  • Tips to law enforcement from internet providers or others
  • Investigations into trafficking rings
  • Sting operations

So it’s not like the cops are randomly searching people’s phones and computers. But if they have probable cause, they can get warrants.

What About Accidental Possession?

This is a gray area. Let’s say you accidentally open a spam email attachment and child pornography pops up. Do you now “possess” it?

Most experts say you need to immediately delete it and have no intent to keep it. But it’s complex, so talk to a lawyer.

Can The Law Go Too Far?

Some argue that charging teenagers just for sexting their boyfriends or girlfriends is an unjust application of the law. Prosecutors have a lot of discretion.

There are also debates around artistic merit, like the movie American Beauty depicting a fantasy. Reasonable people disagree on these issues.

The Bottom Line

Possessing child pornography is very risky and can ruin your life. Even accidental viewing can land you in legal jeopardy.

If questioned by police, say you want a lawyer. Delete questionable material immediately. And be very careful on the internet.

I hope this overview of Penal Code 311.11 was helpful! Let me know if you have any other questions.