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Defending Federal Child Pornography Charges: What You Need to Know

Defending Federal Child Pornography Charges: What You Need to Know

Federal child pornography laws are no joke. They are extremely tough, and federal investigators enforce those laws vigorously[1]. The consequences of a conviction are far-reaching and long-lasting — we’re talking years in prison, massive fines, and having to register as a sex offender.

It goes without saying that if you or a loved one is being investigated or charged with a federal child pornography crime, it is critically important to be represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands these complex cases inside and out. You need someone who grasps the relevant statutes and case law, comprehends the technical forensic computer evidence involved, and has a proven track record handling federal child pornography cases specifically.

The Early Stages of a Federal Child Porn Investigation

By the time you realize federal agents are investigating you for a potential child pornography violation, they have likely already been looking into it secretly for months[1]. Federal agencies like the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations use various techniques to track and build cases around possible child porn crimes.

Methods can include surveillance, confidential informants, undercover agents in peer-to-peer file sharing networks, obtaining subpoenas and search warrants, and more. It’s usually impossible to know if you are the target of an investigation until the feds make their move.

Once federal agents believe they have enough evidence, they will obtain a federal search warrant authorizing them to raid your home or office and seize your electronic devices. After seizing your electronics, the devices are transported to computer forensics labs where experts create complete forensic images of the hard drives.

Sophisticated forensic tools are then used to scour the mirrored hard drives in exhaustive detail looking for any evidence of child pornography possession, receipt, distribution, or production. The results of this forensic analysis largely determine what federal charges end up getting brought.

Common Federal Child Pornography Charges

Title 18 Sections 2251 and 2252[1] of the United States Code are the primary federal statutes defining and prohibiting child pornography crimes. Common charges include:

  • Possession of child pornography: It’s a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison to knowingly possess any kind of media depicting minors under 18 engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
  • Receipt or distribution: Receiving or distributing child porn carries a 5 year mandatory minimum prison sentence, with additional enhancements possible.
  • Production: Actually producing child pornography by sexually exploiting children physically is punished even more harshly — a 15 year mandatory minimum sentence.

The possible penalties can be staggering, especially when mandatory minimum sentences are in play. Financial consequences like fines and having to pay restitution to victims are also common. Additionally, federal law requires anyone convicted of a child porn offense to register as a sex offender.

Fighting the Charges With an Experienced Federal Defense Lawyer

The first step in assessing the likely outcome for any federal case is figuring out where the federal sentencing guidelines[1] land. The guidelines provide a starting point for fashioning an appropriate sentence, even though they are not absolutely binding on judges.

You need an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to have a realistic, detailed discussion about potential sentencing possibilities in your specific case. More importantly, a knowledgeable lawyer can advise you on proactive steps to take early on that may positively impact sentencing down the road.

Exploring All Possible Defenses

It is critical to vigorously explore any and all possible defenses when facing federal child pornography allegations[3]. Potential defenses could include:

  • Affirmative defenses specifically outlined in federal child pornography laws[1], like possessing less than three images and promptly reporting or trying to destroy them.
  • Contesting whether the images actually depict real minors or sexually explicit conduct as defined under federal law.
  • Challenging the legality of how evidence was obtained by federal agents.
  • Asserting the images were obtained or distributed by someone else who had access to your devices or accounts without your knowledge.
  • Maintaining you were completely unaware the images were ever on your devices or in your possession at all.

A creative, relentless federal defense lawyer will look at every angle to build the strongest defense possible given the unique facts of your case.

If You Are Under Investigation, Lawyer Up Immediately

If federal agents contact you about a child pornography investigation or you have reason to believe you are being targeted, it is vital that you immediately retain an experienced federal defense attorney[1].

A knowledgeable lawyer can advise you on how to respond (or not respond) to investigators, protect your constitutional rights, and try to prevent charges from ever being filed if possible.

Don’t Go It Alone

Facing a federal child pornography case is scary, stressful, and often lengthy. Having a tenacious, compassionate attorney guiding you through the process is critical. Seeking counseling and support networks can also be very helpful in coping with the situation in a healthy way[1].

The bottom line is you should never try to navigate federal criminal charges without experienced legal representation. There is simply too much at stake. Consult with a federal defense lawyer as soon as possible if you or someone you love could be facing federal child porn allegations.

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