If you are facing federal charges for possession of child pornography, you have every right to be concerned, and it is important that you understand the charges against you, as well as the potential penalties you could face if convicted.
You should also be aware of your options for defending yourself against the charges, and you should consult with an attorney who has experience handling federal possession of child pornography cases as soon as possible.
What is Federal Possession of Child Pornography?
The federal government has laws pertaining to child pornography, and U.S. Code § 2256 defines child pornography as any visual depiction of a child involved in, or apparently involved in, sexually explicit acts or posed in a sexually suggestive manner.
Federal law defines a “child” as a person who is under 18 years of age. Additionally, juveniles themselves can also be charged with and convicted for producing, distributing, or possessing child pornography.
A charge of possession of child pornography means that a person knowingly had items in their possession that depict a child being sexually exploited or abused, such as any of the following:
- Physical photographs, including undeveloped film
- Movie films
- Videos, such as those that use magnetic tape
- Electronic images and video files
- Computer-generated images
Furthermore, the law prohibits modifying or manipulating a non-explicit image of a child to make the image more sexually suggestive or make it appear as if the child is engaging in sexual activity.
Why Is It a Federal Offense?
Certain offenses fall under federal jurisdiction and will almost always be prosecuted at the federal level, such as crimes against the federal government and crimes that occurred on federal property. Crimes also fall under federal jurisdiction if they take place across state lines or international boundaries.
By its design, the Internet crosses both state and international boundaries, and files are stored on and retrieved from servers that may be located in various places across the country and around the world. Sex-related Internet offenses are often prosecuted at the federal level, particularly those involving child sexual abuse or exploitation.
The law expressly prohibits distributing or receiving sexually explicit material involving children through “any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce,” and this includes through the use of computers and, by extension, any of the following:
- The Internet
- File-sharing programs
- Peer-to-peer networks
- Email and other electronic means
It is also a federal offense to distribute or receive child pornography through the mail or parcel service, or by physically transporting the material to someone in another state or country.
Penalties for Federal Possession of Child Pornography
The possible penalties for conviction of federal crimes involving child pornography are serious, and first-time offenders can face a prison sentence of between five and 20 years, along with having to pay fines. Also, penalties can be enhanced if the images depict abuse or violence against the child or if the child is under the age of 12.
Furthermore, it's important to note that the state can also prosecute you along with the federal government. New Jersey statute 2C:24-4 includes possession of child pornography as an offense related to endangering the welfare of children. Therefore, you can receive state penalties as well if convicted of possession of child pornography in New Jersey. Possession is usually considered a third-degree felony and is punishable by three to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
Sex Offender Registry
Along with the possibility of prison time and paying hefty fines, those convicted of possessing child pornography will have to register as sex offenders in New Jersey. If a registered sex offender moves to the state from another location, they must register with the state within 10 days.
Maintained by the New Jersey State Police, the Sex Offender Registry is a public database that anyone can access, and it is used by law enforcement when investigating crimes, as well as employers who are running background checks on job applicants. As such, being a registered sex offender can adversely affect your chances of obtaining employment and even where you can live. It can also seriously affect your reputation and standing in the community.
Submitting a DNA Sample
In addition to requiring a person to register as a sex offender, New Jersey requires that anyone charged with child pornography submit a sample of their DNA. As with the Sex Offender Registry, the state maintains a database of DNA samples from those accused of a wide range of offenses. This includes those who are charged with possession of child pornography, as well as those who produce and distribute the material.
Why You Need an Attorney
Federal crimes are handled differently from state crimes in that they require a grand jury indictment in order to prosecute. Before presenting their case to a grand jury, prosecutors will have already conducted lengthy and comprehensive investigations into the alleged illegal activity and the alleged perpetrators themselves.
Although the prosecution has a higher burden of proof before officially charging you with a crime, if a grand jury does indict you, it means the prosecution has gathered substantial evidence against you. The federal government typically has vast resources to devote to investigating and prosecuting a case, and federal prosecutors are usually aggressive in trying to obtain a formal charge and conviction.
Furthermore, cases involving federal crimes are heard in federal district courts, and there are significant differences between how criminal cases are handled in federal courts versus state courts.
Considering how federal crimes are prosecuted and how high the stakes are, you need to have an attorney on your side who understands how to handle federal criminal defense to help increase your chances of obtaining the most favorable outcome possible.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the defense team at the Lento Law Firm have many years of experience representing clients facing federal charges for possession of child pornography. Call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online to get the help you need.