NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 27th December 2023, 03:40 am
Understanding Sentencing for Child Pornography Crimes
If you or someone you care about has been charged with possession or distribution of child pornography, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed tryna figure out what could happen next. Dealing with legal issues involving kids is super serious, for sure. This article aims to break down some of the key things to know about sentencing for child pornography offenses in the US to help provide some clarity on what types of penalties may be imposed.
Federal vs State Sentencing
The first thing to understand is that sentencing can vary dependin’ on whether charges are being pursued at the federal level or through individual states. In general, federal child porn charges tend to carry harsher minimum penalties. This is cuz federal laws have mandatory minimums written into the statutes, whereas many state sentencing schemes give judges more discretion.
For example, a simple possession charge of child pornography at the federal level has a minimum sentence of 5 years. But in some states, judges have leeway to consider things like an offender’s criminal history, role in the offense, acceptance of responsibility, etc. before determinin’ an appropriate punishment. So someone convicted of the same charge in different jurisdictions could end up with very different outcomes.
If charged federally through something like the PROTECT Act, it’s important to work with a lawyer experienced in federal criminal defense. They’ll understand things like the US Sentencing Guidelines, which are used to calculate recommended sentences in the federal system.
Specific Charges and Potential Penalties
The exact charge will impact potential penalties too. Here’s a quick overview of some common child pornography charges at both the federal and state levels:
Possession of Child Pornography
Simply having child porn images or videos on electronic devices can be charged as possession. Again, minimum penalties are usually higher in federal court. But sentences tend to range anywhere from probation to over 10 years imprisonment dependin’ on aggravating or mitigating factors.
Distribution of Child Pornography
Sharin’ or trading images is considered distribution and carries much harsher consequences. At the federal level, distribution has a mandatory minimum of 5 years and maximum of 20 years. Many states also consider distribution a felony punishable by several years or decades in prison.
Production of Child Pornography
Creating new child pornography by directly involving minors is one of the most severe charges. Federal law imposes a minimum 15-year sentence for production. Some states may charge it as a felony sex crime with life imprisonment possible in very egregious situations.
Obscene Visual Representations of the Sexual Abuse of Children
This relatively new federal charge targets any depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor, whether through drawing, sculpture, or other non-photographic means. It carries a minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years.
See this guide from the Department of Justice for a more in-depth overview of these and other child pornography laws at the federal level.
Factors Affecting Sentencing Outcomes
While charges and mandatory minimums set the baseline, there are also many factors judges consider when determining the specific sentence within statutory ranges. Things like these can potentially result in a more lenient or more severe punishment:
Offenders with no prior convictions tend to receive more lenient treatment compared to repeat or dangerous offenders.
Number of Images/Videos Involved
Large collections indicate ongoing or compulsive behavior warranting a stiffer sentence.
Age/Vulnerability of Victims Depicted
Younger ages or images depicting violence, torture, or sadism may incur sentence enhancements.