Over the past 20 years, our firm has assisted many clients facing child pornography charges and sexual exploitation offenses in federal courts across the United States.
Many of our clients contact us immediately after being approached by law enforcement or having a search warrant executed at their home or business. If we are hired early enough in the investigation, we are occasionally able to convince the government to not pursue criminal charges. In other cases, we have been successful in filing motions to suppress based on constitutional challenges to search warrants and coerced statements obtained through aggressive interrogation of our clients.
We are also frequently hired by clients facing federal child pornography charges when they have become dissatisfied with their current representation. In one recent federal child pornography case, a client hired us when his former lawyer had been trying to persuade him to enter a guilty plea and face years in prison. After we took over the case and started preparing for trial, the prosecutors decided to dismiss all charges the week before the case was scheduled to go to trial.
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Under federal law, child pornography is any “visual depiction” of a minor engaging in “sexually explicit conduct.” A visual depiction is basically a picture, video or digital image. A minor is anyone under 18 years old. “Sexually explicit conduct” includes a variety of sexual activity including intercourse, masturbation and “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area” of any person. Nudity can be considered “sexually explicit conduct” if it is sexually suggestive.
It is illegal under federal law (18 U.S.C. §2252) to produce, distribute, receive or possess any child pornography. It is also illegal under federal law to knowingly search for and view child pornography even if the images are subsequently destroyed or deleted.
A conviction for a federal child pornography offense can carry a substantial amount of prison time. A person who is convicted of knowingly possessing child pornography can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison or up to 20 years in prison if the minor depicted in the image is under the age of twelve.
A person who is convicted of distributing or receiving child pornography faces a 5 to 20 year prison sentence. Of course, the sentences can be dramatically increased for a person with a prior conviction.
There are also fines and restitution payments that are often required to any identifiable victim of the offense. Not to mention, being convicted of a child pornography offense in federal court will require registration as a sex offender.
Sexual exploitation of children is a separate crime under federal law that covers the production of child pornography. A person who attempts to induce, persuade or entice a minor to engage in a sexual act for the purpose of making a video, picture or other image is guilty of sexual exploitation under federal law (18 U.S.C. §2251). As with other federal child pornography laws, a minor means anyone under the age of 18.
A person can be prosecuted for sexual exploitation even if all of the conduct occurred outside of the United States. To prosecute someone who is accused of producing child pornography in a foreign country, the government must prove that the person intended to send or make available the child pornography to people in the United States.
The penalties for sexual exploitation under federal law are incredibly severe. The mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years and the maximum is 30 years. The exact sentence for a child pornography or sexual exploitation conviction will depend on a number of factors and the calculation of the advisory federal sentencing guidelines.
In child pornography cases, the sentence usually depends on the number of images or videos that the person possessed or distributed, the age of the minors in the images and the type of sexual conduct shown. There are also enhancements for people who have engaged in a pattern of similar conduct even if the person has never been previously charged or convicted of a sex crime.
Defending someone charged with a child pornography or sexual exploitation offense can be extraordinarily difficult. Our firm, however, has been successful in many of these cases by challenging the government’s evidence on a few critical elements.
The most obvious defense to these charges is that the person depicted in the film or image is not a minor. We have consulted with pediatricians and other medical experts to review images to show that the person being depicted may very well be 18 years old.
It is a strange fact that federal law criminalizes the possession of a nude picture of someone who is 17 years old, especially in states where 17-year-old people are legally able to consent to sexual intercourse. While in many states it is perfectly legal to have a sexual relationship with someone who is 17 years old, possessing a nude picture of that 17 year old is a violation of federal law and will result in prison time.
We also look at the evidence in the case to determine if the images actually show “sexually explicit conduct” as defined under federal law. Many times, the government has collected images showing nudity but not the type of sexual activity prohibited by the law. Images commonly referred to “erotica” are not necessarily images of child pornography.
In almost every case where our clients are investigated or charged with child pornography or sexual exploitation, we obtain the assistance of some of the best computer forensic experts in the country. A good computer forensic expert can help us determine if the government has properly conducted a search of the computer and other electronic devices to locate the evidence.
Our experts will often show that these images may not have been knowingly possessed by the person being charged and, if they had been inadvertently obtained, were quickly deleted or destroyed. Our experts can also help us show that any child pornography images may have been mistakenly downloaded when the computer has a significant amount of adult pornography that is otherwise legal. We can also have our experts focus on specific internet search terms to show that our client was not intentionally searching for child pornography.
In some cases, we have been able to show that the tips or leads the government receives cannot conclusively show that it was our client’s computer that was offering images for distribution. This is also true in many of the undercover operations the government conducts when agents are trolling the internet and various networks trying to find child pornography to download.
Most federal child pornography cases these days involve the use of peer-to-peer networks and software, including Gnutella, Aries, Bit Torrent and similar networks. We are also now seeing cases involving the TOR network, which the government has recently been able to access and investigate. In a few recent cases, our experts have been able to show that our client’s computer may have been maliciously accessed and used by these networks to allow the distribution of child pornography without our client’s knowledge.
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Federal child pornography and sexual exploitation charges are incredibly serious, frightening and difficult to defend. Our firm has decades of experience in successfully representing people across the United States who are charged in federal court with possessing, distributing or producing child pornography. We have also assisted individuals investigated for these offenses outside of the United States and have helped our clients avoid being charged with any crime.
Although we most often represent clients in cases where we are “lead counsel,” we can sometimes assist people who maybe experiencing the stress of a federal criminal case for the first time and would like a “second opinion” about the strength of the government’s case. For these clients, we share our expertise in federal child pornography and sexual exploitation cases with the client and the client’s current lawyer to help them make what is often a life-changing decision about accepting a proposed plea agreement or taking the case to trial.
In addition to helping our clients win favorable resolutions or “not guilty” verdicts in federal child pornography and exploitation cases, we also assist clients in federal criminal appeals, sentencing hearings and grand jury investigations involving related allegations.
We have successfully represented clients in federal criminal cases across the United States. Our firm has offices in Atlanta GA, Alexandria VA, and Washington DC, and we frequently travel to other federal courts to represent people in serious federal criminal cases.
If you or someone you know is currently facing child pornography or sexual exploitation charges in federal court, give us a call and we will let you know if we can help.
I hired Mr Pate to handle my federal 2255 appeal which was for ineffective council of a former attorney. He spent countless hours with my case load filing paperwork, meeting with me, more than one hearing in front of multiple judges etc. my 2255 was won and I had a sentence reduction fo all his hard work. 2255 are very hard to win and the odds are slim so if you need a great lawyer that will work hard for you and argue for you even harder in Court, you need to call Page! He and Mr Church both had my back all the way thru. Thanks to them both but especially Page Pate!