I thought I would be picking a jury today in a federal child pornography case, but the prosecutor dismissed the case a few days ago. Our client had been charged with violations of 19 U.S.C. § 2252, which meant that he faced a minimum of ten years in prison if convicted on any charge. Fortunately, all charges were dismissed and he is now a free man.
In this case, the government claimed that they had downloaded dozens of child pornography images and videos our client had obtained and then offered for distribution over the Gnutella and Ares Networks. These networks are peer-to-peer computer networks that allow users to download and then share music and other data files. The government executed a search warrant at our client’s home and located a number of file names and hash values associated with known child pornography images. The government agents also interrogated our client and obtained an admission that our client had downloaded about 200 images of child pornography.
We were not involved in the case when our client was first charged back in March of 2014. At that time, our client hired another defense lawyer who negotiated a plea agreement where the client would serve several years in federal prison and be required to register on the Sex Offender Registry for the remainder of his life. The client felt uncomfortable with this plea agreement and contacted us.
I have handled over a dozen federal child pornography cases involving peer-to-peer networks like Gnutella, Ares, Limewire, BitTorrent and others. The client had heard about our firm’s experience in these cases and he knew that we would not simply accept the government’s version of the case.
Immediately after we were hired, we attacked the government’s case on two fronts. First, we realized that the client had a good argument to suppress the evidence that was found during the execution of the search warrant and any statements that he may have made. At the same time, we began our own investigation of the case specifically focusing on the government’s forensic reports and alleged downloads of child pornography from our client’s computer at certain IP addresses. We also interviewed potential character and fact witnesses on our client’s behalf, and obtained records that would support our defense that the client did not intend to obtain child pornography even though he had downloaded many illegal images.
Our client remained confident in our ability to win the case at trial so he refused to take part in any additional plea negotiations. We were also confident we had done everything possible to prepare a solid defense to attack the government’s case and were ready for trial.
Despite all our hard work, we still knew that there would be some people on the jury who would want to convict the defendant if the government presented any evidence that the defendant had actually obtained images depicting graphic sexual conduct involving children. In my experience, people charged in federal child pornography cases start out with a presumption of guilt instead of innocence. For that and many other reasons, a dismissal is much better than having to take the risk of trying the case to an unknown and unpredictable jury.
We never had to take that risk. After requesting several continuances to review the information that we had provided in our client’s defense, the federal prosecutors dismissed all charges last week. I was able to let my client know the moment this decision was made because he was in our office at the time preparing his testimony for trial. It was extremely gratifying to be able to give our client this news and relieve the incredible stress that he and his family had been going through for over a year.
Of course, not every federal child pornography case ends in a dismissal right before trial. But, at least in some cases, we can find critical weaknesses in the government’s evidence and convince them to take another look at the charges before trial. Although I wish our client had never been charged with this offense, I commend the federal prosecutor and agents involved in this case for deciding that it should be dismissed.