Child Pornography: What Happens If I or Someone I know is being Investigated?
Facing a charge of possessing, distribution, receiving, or producing child pornography is a scary proposition. Not only do child pornography charges carry the possibility of long prison sentences and registration as a predatory offender, but even being charged with anything related to child pornography results in a serious social stigma against you.
Fighting child pornography charges can be challenging. While the fight is uphill, it is not an impossible battle to win. However, the fight starts early. Namely, the fight against the charges should start as soon as you become aware of any investigation involving you, or a loved one or friend. Most of the time, you become aware of an investigation when the police execute a search warrant at your home. When executing the search warrant, the police will likely seize any computers, disks, flash drives, remote hard drives, or any other computer equipment that may hold child pornography.
Chances are that when the police seize these items, they will attempt to interview you about the charges. However, the police most likely will NOT charge you right away. You will not be charged immediately because the police will have to conduct a forensic examination of all the equipment seized, including the hard drive on any and all computers seized. This forensic examination will take time. We know from experience with many of these cases that you will not be charged until Months or sometimes Years after the search warrant was executed.
The wait can be excruciating. You may even come to believe that you won’t be charged at all. Most likely, you will eventually be charged with a child pornography offense, even if the police, at the time of the forensic examination, can no longer find any child pornography on your hard drive. The forensic examination may discover that, in the past, you had child pornography on your hard drive. The police will not care if you tell them that it was only there by mistake, because you thought that you downloaded adult pornography, and, as soon as you discovered the materials contained child pornography, you deleted them. Even this seemingly innocuous conduct can result in you being charged with a child pornography offense. We know, because it has happened to one of our clients.
If this is what happened to you, then your best option is to fight the charges. You can do so after the search warrant is executed but before you’re ever charged – if you hire the right attorney. Avoiding charges at all is the best possible outcome. If you feel that the police are wrongfully targeting you for a child pornography investigation, you should contact an attorney immediately.
Even if you did download child pornography, and both knew that the materials were child pornography and intended to download them, you aren’t out of options. Most importantly, you should be aware that there are significant differences between charges in Federal court and in State court. Federal offenses for child pornography are MUCH harsher. The Federal Sentencing guidelines mandate stricter penalties for child pornography offenses than do the State guidelines. For example, Federal charges for distribution of child pornography carry a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence. At the State level in Minnesota, there is no mandatory minimum associated with child pornography offenses.
Whether you are charged in State or Federal court can be dependent both on the circumstances of your case, such as the number of images or videos in your possession, any prior offenses you may have, and your individual characteristics, such as any medical or health issues you may have. Hiring the right criminal defense attorney immediately after the search warrant is executed can be the difference between charging in State or Federal court and, as a result, the difference between a long prison sentence in Federal custody and a short jail sentence in a local county jail, or no jail time at all. Moreover, the right criminal defense attorney can help you find treatment programs in between the time when a search warrant is executed and when you are formally charged. These treatment programs greatly assist with getting a more lenient sentence in both State and Federal Court. A Judge is more likely to grant a departure (in State court) or a variance (in Federal court) from the sentencing guidelines for someone who has been participating in a treatment program.
If you’ve learned that you’re the subject of a child pornography investigation, don’t wait until you’re charged with a crime to seek the services of an attorney who is experienced with child pornography cases. Failing to act before you’ve been charged can have long lasting consequences.