A recent report from the Pew Research Center indicates that roughly 90% of adults in the U.S. use the internet. The prevalence of digital communications and transactions has had some significant benefits; however, it has also created a new means of conducting criminal activity. Across the U.S., there are an estimated 747,000 registered sex offenders. Nearly 100,000 of these offenders that are required to register are not currently compliant.
Data from the Justice Department shows there are an estimated 300,000 U.S. children that are at risk of “commercial sexual exploitation.” The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that among those arrested for charges that relate to child pornography, approximately 40% had sexually assaulted a child. Arrests for child pornography and other sexual offenses involving the internet have continued to surge recently.
Invasion of Privacy (2C:14-9)
There are various types of internet-related sex crimes. The first crime we will review occurs when someone takes photos, captures video footage, or otherwise obtains images of another person that shows their intimate parts or depicts them participating in sexual activity. This offense is one that is knowingly committed by someone who has not obtained permission to do so. The victim has not given consent to be observed and has no reason to expect to be observed at the time.
Another way the offense may be committed is through disclosure of photos, video footage, or other images of another person that shows their intimate parts or depicts them participating in sexual activity. The act of disclosing may involve selling, giving, publishing, or otherwise disseminating. Either variation of this crime is a third-degree offense that is punishable by a period of incarceration between three and five years. The offense may result in an enhanced monetary penalty of a maximum $30,000 fine.
Endangering Welfare of Children (2C: 24-4)
This offense occurs when someone allows or causes a child to participate in sexual activity that may be recorded or photographed. It may also be committed by photographing, recording, or otherwise producing images of a child engaging in prohibited acts of a sexual nature. Another way the offense may be committed is through disclosure of photos, video footage, or other images that show a child engaging in prohibited acts of a sexual nature. The act of disclosing may involve selling, giving, publishing, or otherwise disseminating.
The law also prohibits depicting or creating the appearance that someone engaged in sexual activity is a minor. The offense may also be committed by knowingly taking possession of or viewing such photos or videos. Those who endanger the welfare of a child as described are generally charged with a second-degree offense that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $150,000.
If the individual who allows or causes the child to engage in acts of prohibited sexual activity is the child's parent, guardian, or another person responsible for their care, the offense is elevated to a first-degree offense. Those who knowingly possess or view such photos or videos are charged with a third-degree offense.
Prohibiting Internet Access (2C: 43-6.6)
Those who are convicted of certain sex offenses where the judge or jury determines that the internet was used to facilitate the crime may have conditions imposed that restrict future internet usage as follows:
- The individual may be prohibited from accessing the internet without the court's approval
- Subject the individual to random inspections of their computer
- Require the offender to install and maintain some platform that monitors internet usage
- Those who violate these restrictions may be charged with a fourth-degree offense
“Cyber” Harassment (2C: 33-4.1)
New Jersey lawmakers have implemented the crime of cyber-harassment. This crime is committed by accessing the internet and communicating in a manner that harasses someone. The offender may create postings, comments, or otherwise disseminate lewd, offensive, or otherwise inappropriate material that is intentional. The act is one that creates emotional harm or may instill fear of physical harm. The offense is generally a fourth-degree criminal offense that is punishable by up to 18 months of incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000.
If the offense is committed by an individual that is 21-years-old that is posing as a minor in order to harass a minor then the crime is charged as a third-degree offense. If a minor that is less than 16 years of age is found to be delinquent by acts of cyber harassment, the court may order them to attend a program that discourages such behavior. The parent or guardian of the child may be charged with a disorderly person offense if they fail to enforce compliance with the orders of the court.
Federal Provisions for Child Pornography (18 U.S. Code § 2256)
Federal law defines child pornography as photos, videos, or other images that depict a minor participating in forms of explicit conduct of a sexual nature. The offense may also be committed by altering or making modifications to an image or video that makes it appear that a minor is engaged in prohibited sexual activity. In addition, the crime does not necessarily require that sexual conduct is involved; as the minor may simply be exposed in a manner that is “sexually suggestive.”
Federal law also overrides any state laws that relate to the age that a minor may give consent to engage in sexual activity. A first-time offender that produces child pornography may be sentenced to between 15 and 30 years in prison. Merely possessing and transporting pornographic material involving a minor over state lines may result in a prison sentence of between five and 20 years. Offenders may face enhanced penalties for material that is deemed to be “violent, sadistic, or masochistic” or that involves child abuse.
Serious Allegations Require Experienced Legal Representation
In today's connected digital environment it is now easier than ever to communicate with others and share photos and videos. Members of law enforcement are conscious of the way that some individuals use the internet to commit various crimes. Proving internet-based sex crimes requires that the acts were willfully committed and defending these allegations requires the expertise of a seasoned criminal defense attorney.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
Joseph D. Lento has been representing clients who are alleged to have committed criminal acts for many years. He understands how to skillfully challenge the evidence and expose potential weaknesses in the prosecution's theory of events. For a complimentary case consultation, contact the office today at (888) 535-3686.