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Defense Strategies for Those Accused of
 Possessing Child Pornography

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Defense Strategies for Those Accused of
 Possessing Child Pornography

Child pornography possession is an extremely serious offense that can lead to high penalties and collateral consequences upon conviction. If you are currently facing one of these charges, you need to consult with a skilled child pornography defense attorney in your jurisdiction right away.

Your lawyer can determine if you may be eligible to raise a legal defense at your court trial. If so, your attorney can argue that defense on your behalf and pursue a complete dismissal of your charge. Additionally, your lawyer may explore other options, including pursuing a favorable plea deal from the state prosecutor on your behalf.

Elements of a Child Pornography Possession Charge

The charge of possessing child pornography is a serious criminal offense with specific legal elements that must be proven for a conviction. In order for the prosecutor handling the case to obtain a conviction against the accused, they must satisfy each legal element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt – which is a high burden to overcome.

  • First, the prosecution must establish that the material in question actually constitutes child pornography. Child pornography is defined as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. A minor, in this context, is typically someone under the age of 18. The definition encompasses various forms of media, including photographs, videos, and digital images.
  • Second, it must be shown that the accused individual (the defendant) knowingly possessed the material. Knowingly means that the individual was aware that they had the material and knew its content. This element is vital because it ensures that individuals who unknowingly come into contact with such material are not unfairly prosecuted. For instance, if someone accidentally downloads an image and immediately deletes it upon realizing what it is, they may not meet the standard of knowing possession.
  • Third, the defendant must have actual or constructive possession of the material. Actual possession means having physical control over the material, such as having it stored on a computer or a physical device. Constructive possession, on the other hand, means having the power and intention to control the material, even if it is not physically on the person. For example, if the images are stored in a cloud service that the defendant can access, they may have constructive possession.
  • Another crucial element is that the material must cross state or international boundaries in some manner if federal charges are involved. This element often applies because the internet, which is commonly used to distribute such material, typically involves data transfer across state lines or international borders.
  • Lastly, the prosecution must prove that the material depicts real children, not computer-generated images or adults made to look like children. This requirement ensures that the legal protections apply specifically to real minors.

Possible Penalties for Possessing Child Pornography

The penalties for possessing child pornography are severe and reflect the gravity of the offense. Both federal and state laws impose strict punishments.

federal law
  • Under federal law, possessing child pornography can result in significant prison time. A first-time offender can face up to 20 years in prison. The exact sentence depends upon several factors, including the nature and volume of the material, whether the offender has a history of similar offenses, and whether the material was shared or distributed. Additionally, possessing particularly graphic or violent content can lead to harsher penalties.
  • Besides imprisonment, there are substantial fines. Federal fines can reach up to $250,000. These financial penalties are designed to further punish offenders and compensate for the societal costs associated with the crime.
  • State laws also impose strict penalties, though they vary widely. In many states, possession of child pornography is classified as a felony, which typically results in a prison sentence ranging from several years to over a decade. Repeat offenders or those involved in distribution or production can face even longer sentences. Fines at the state level can also be substantial, often reaching tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Moreover, individuals convicted of possessing child pornography must normally register as sex offenders. This registration carries significant long-term consequences. Registered sex offenders must provide their address, employment information, and other personal details to law enforcement. This information is often made public, affecting the offender’s ability to find housing and employment. In many states, sex offenders face restrictions on where they can live, such as prohibitions against living near schools or parks.
  • Beyond legal penalties, the social consequences are profound. A conviction can lead to loss of employment, strained family relationships, and social isolation. The stigma attached to sex offenses, especially those involving children, can be devastating.

In some cases, courts may impose additional penalties, such as mandatory counseling or participation in a treatment program for sexual offenders. These measures aim to prevent future offenses by addressing underlying issues related to criminal behavior.

If you ultimately incur a conviction for child pornography possession, an experienced attorney can represent you during your criminal sentencing hearing and argue for a lighter penalty than what the government is recommending.

Potential Defenses to a Child Pornography Possession Charge

Defending against a charge of possessing child pornography involves several potential legal strategies. These defenses aim to challenge the prosecution’s evidence – or the way it was obtained – casting doubt on the defendant’s guilt.

  • One common defense is a lack of knowledge. For a conviction, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knowingly possessed the material. If the defendant can show they were unaware of the material’s presence or content, this defense can be effective. For example, if the material was unknowingly downloaded as part of a larger file, or if someone else used the defendant’s device without their knowledge, the defendant may argue that they did not have the required intent.
  • Another defense is challenging the legality of the search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. If law enforcement officers obtained evidence without a proper warrant or violated the defendant’s rights during the investigation, the evidence may be inadmissible in court. For instance, if police searched the defendant’s computer without a warrant or probable cause, the defense can file a motion to suppress the evidence, potentially weakening the prosecution’s case.
  • A third defense involves questioning the actual possession of the material. The prosecution must prove that the defendant had control over the material. If the material was stored in a location accessible to multiple people, such as a shared computer or a public network, the defense may argue that it cannot be conclusively shown that the defendant was the one in possession.
  • Technical defenses also play a role, especially given the digital nature of child pornography. Defendants can argue that their computer was hacked or that malware downloaded the material without their knowledge. Expert testimony from computer forensics specialists can support this defense by showing evidence of unauthorized access or explaining how certain files may have been placed on the device without the defendant’s direct action.
  • Finally, the defendant may argue that the material does not meet the legal definition of child pornography. This defense requires demonstrating that the images or videos in question do not depict real minors or do not involve sexually explicit conduct.

Pros and Cons of a Plea Deal in a Child Pornography Possession Case

In a child pornography possession case, a plea deal can be a crucial decision with significant pros and cons. Understanding these can help defendants make an informed choice.

  • One major advantage of a plea deal is the possibility of a reduced sentence. By agreeing to plead guilty, defendants may receive a lighter sentence than if they were convicted at trial. This can mean less prison time, lower fines, or both. For instance, instead of facing a maximum sentence, the plea deal may result in a few years in prison or a period of supervised probation.
  • Another benefit is the certainty that a plea deal provides. Trials are unpredictable, and a guilty verdict can lead to harsher penalties. A plea deal offers a known outcome, which can reduce anxiety and stress for the defendant and their family.
  • Plea deals may also expedite the legal process. Trials can be long, drawn-out affairs, taking months or even years to conclude. By accepting a plea deal, the case can be resolved more quickly, allowing everyone involved to move forward sooner.
  • However, there are significant downsides to consider. One major con is that a plea deal requires the defendant to plead guilty to a crime. This means having a criminal record, which can have lasting consequences, including difficulty finding employment, housing and the stigma of being a convicted felon – especially with a charge as serious as child pornography possession.
  • Another disadvantage is that defendants must waive certain rights, such as the right to a trial by jury and the right to confront witnesses. This can feel like giving up the opportunity to fully defend oneself and have a fair trial.
  • Additionally, even with a plea deal, the penalties can still be severe. While reduced, they may still include prison time, hefty fines, and mandatory sex offender registration. This registration can lead to long-term restrictions and societal stigma.
  • Moreover, some defendants may feel pressured to accept a plea deal, even if they believe they are innocent or have valid defenses. The fear of a harsher sentence if convicted at trial can lead to coerced guilty pleas.

Taking a Child Pornography Possession Case to Trial

Case Trial

Taking a child pornography possession case to trial is a significant decision that involves a detailed legal process. Understanding what happens during a trial can help defendants prepare for what lies ahead.

  • First, the trial begins with jury selection. Both the defense and the prosecution participate in choosing jurors who will decide the case. Each side can ask potential jurors questions to determine any biases and can dismiss certain jurors they believe may be unfavorable to their case.
  • After selecting the jury, the trial proceeds with opening statements. Both the prosecution and the defense present their overview of the case to the jury, outlining the evidence they plan to present and their main arguments. The prosecution goes first, followed by the defense.
  • After opening statements, the prosecution begins presenting its case. This involves calling witnesses to testify and introducing evidence. In a child pornography possession case, the prosecution may present digital evidence, such as files found on the defendant’s computer and expert testimony from forensic analysts who examined the devices. Potential witnesses can include law enforcement officers who conducted the investigation.
  • The defense then has the opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, aiming to challenge their credibility and the reliability of the evidence presented. Cross-examination is crucial for raising doubts about the prosecution’s case.
  • Once the prosecution rests its case, the defense presents its own evidence and witnesses. The defense may introduce evidence showing that the defendant did not knowingly possess the material or that the material was placed on the device without their knowledge. The defense can also call experts to testify about potential technical issues, such as malware or unauthorized access.
  • After the defense rests, both sides make closing arguments, summarizing their cases and urging the jury to return a verdict in their favor. The prosecution goes first, followed by the defense, with the prosecution having a final opportunity to rebut the defense’s argument.

The judge then provides instructions to the jury on the legal standards they must apply in deciding the case. The jury deliberates in private, reviewing the evidence and arguments to reach a verdict. They must then decide whether the prosecution has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury returns a verdict of guilty, the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing. However, if the verdict is not guilty, the defendant is acquitted and free to go.

Taking a case to trial involves risks and uncertainties, but it also allows the defendant to fully challenge the charges and present their side of the story. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you choose between accepting a plea deal and taking your case to trial, given the facts, circumstances, and potential legal defenses to your charge.

Talk with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you are currently facing a criminal charge for child pornography possession, it’s important that you consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney right away. Your lawyer can determine all of your legal options and help you make important decisions throughout your case, including whether to accept a plea deal or raise a strong legal defense at trial.