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What are the Penalties for Possessing Child Pornography?

— June 9, 2021

Possession of child pornography is taken so seriously because items depicting children in sexual circumstances inherently involve child abuse.

Technological advancement has resulted in a proliferation of devices capable of online interactions. This plethora of internet-connected devices has made sharing information incredibly fast and easy. These new communication channels also allow for the quick and often difficult-to-track exchange of illicit information. Child pornography is often stored and transmitted online through personal computers and other devices. The possession of child porn will result in severe penalties.

Charges for possession of child pornography are viewed as one of the most heinous offenses a person can commit. Crimes that involve child victims are often dealt with swiftly and harshly, and in many states, a person can face charges as serious as first-degree felonies just for possessing child pornography. There might be additional charges if the defendant was involved in producing the obscene material or distributing it to others.

If you are facing charges for possessing child pornography, your penalties may be very severe. The possibility of spending years in prison is very real. However, the extent of your penalties will depend on the unique factors surrounding your case.

Ways You May be Charged and Penalized for Possessing Child Pornography

A person may be criminally charged if they knowingly store or maintain items or materials that depict sexual exploitation or abuse of a child with the intent to distribute.

Ordinarily, these charges will be serious felonies. Felonies often carry very harsh penalties in many states. For example, in New Jersey an offense equal to a second-degree felony may be punished by at least 5 years in prison but no more than 10 years. Charges for possession of child pornography, however, are often increased depending on the volume of material found. It is important to seek the advice of a local criminal defense attorney as each state may have different rules.

A conviction for possession of child pornography will usually result in mandatory registration as a sex offender. Registered sex offenders often have trouble finding work and may be prohibited from living in areas close to schools, community centers, or other places that children gather. Registered sex offenders may also be required to inform the government when they move, and they may even have to notify neighbors of their status as sex offenders. The sex offender registry is available to the public and may be searched by anyone.

Increasing Penalties for Possession of Child Pornography

Generally, the more items of child pornography that are possessed, the greater the penalties will be. For example, in New Jersey, a defendant found to have at least 1,000 items of child pornography in their possession will have their charges upgraded from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony.

It is also possible that a large volume of child pornography found in your possession will not only lead to increased penalties, but also increased mandatory minimum prison terms. Depending on what state you are in, mandatory minimum prison terms may keep you in jail for a longer than usual portion of your sentence before you become eligible for parole. Some states have graded levels of mandatory minimum terms. This means your mandatory minimum prison term could be increased by multiple levels or stages.

There are also enhanced penalties for defendants convicted of a subsequent offense for possession of child pornography. For example, If you were charged with a third-degree felony in the past for possession of child pornography, a subsequent violation may be charged as a second-degree felony. Check with your state to determine how a subsequent possession offense is charged.

Attorney who Created Child Porn Must Pay $300k
Photo by adrian on Unsplash

Penalty enhancements for child pornography-related offenses are common throughout the United States. However, different states may take different approaches and have varying rules as to how penalties are upgraded. Speak with an attorney experienced in pornography cases in your state to figure out exactly how your penalties may be altered based on the details of your case.

Additional Charges Surrounding Possession of Child Pornography

There are often many other offenses that surround possession. Distribution and production are commonly associated with possession. Also, defendants who had custody of a child and knowingly caused them to engage in sex acts that would be photographed or recorded may face additional charges and penalties.

Possession is very often connected to distribution because child pornography is commonly stored and shared online. File sharing systems or programs are frequently utilized to upload and download photos and videos depicting child pornography. The state might charge you with distribution for storing child pornography on a file-sharing system even if you did not intend to share any file with other people. The state may not need to prove other people viewed the files you stored.

Defending Yourself Against Child Porn Possession Charges

One element of possession is knowing that you had child pornography in your possession. If you can demonstrate you were unaware the item was child pornography, you may have a defense. This might be the case if a technologically un-savvy defendant clicked on an unknown link and accidentally downloaded child pornography. This may also be the case if someone else used your computer or laptop to download child pornography and stored it in a hidden file on your device without your knowledge.

You may be able to keep your charges from being enhanced by challenging the volume of child pornography. Depending on how much pornography is found in your possession, your charges may be upgraded and higher mandatory minimum penalties imposed.. If some of the material in your possession does not qualify as child pornography under the law, you may be able to challenge your charges and sentence.

Final Thoughts on Child Porn Possession

Possession of child pornography is taken so seriously because items depicting children in sexual circumstances inherently involve child abuse. For every piece of child pornography in existence, a real child was sexually abused. However, the heinous nature of this offense does not mean a defendant should not be afforded their constitutional rights to a fair trial and adequate defense.

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